The Escalating Costs of Higher Edumacation

On October 8, the Kansas City Star ran an editorial on its website that appeared in print the next day under the headline “Lower college costs or face extinction.” Though its byline was the Kansas City Star Editorial Board, you might wonder if some outsider wrote the thing, because the Star has been decidedly left-wing for some time now. The paper no longer seems to have any more-conservative voices, like E. Thomas McClanahan, Chris Lester, Jerry Heaster, and George Gurley Sr. of not so distant days gone by. In any event, if one is interested in the soaring inflation we’ve seen in college in recent years, the Star’s short editorial might be worth reading; it even has some links.

The main takeaway from this editorial is that a growing number of Americans no longer think that a four-year college degree is a good investment. Young folks can go tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars into debt just to get a bachelor’s degree and then can’t find a job. Fifty years ago, one could work one’s way through college or work during the summer, and obtain a bachelor’s degree debt-free. And back then, there was the “perma-student,” i.e. permanent student, who just liked to learn stuff or liked the college life or didn’t like the idea of moving on into the “real world,” and so stayed in school for years. It used to be, fifty years ago, that having a four-year “vacation” before you entered the real world wasn’t so huge a decision; so what if your degree didn’t really prepare you for anything specific, college didn’t cost all that much. But today, with the cost of college having risen so steeply, most youngsters need to have a plan and be taking courses that will pay off with job opportunities.

The editorial notes that total student debt now exceeds $1.3T, which is larger than credit card debt, but space limitations prevent the editorial from diving very deeply into the causes of inflation in higher education. So just why does college cost so much; what has driven higher education’s monstrous inflation?

One reason is demand. Progressives have drilled into our heads that everyone needs to go to college Consequently, America sees masses of young folks going to college who really shouldn’t be, and they’re borrowing tons of money to attend. The federal government became an enabler in this folly by guaranteeing student loans. Such loans are not supposed to ever be forgiven, unlike other debt. But then along comes socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders who tells us that student debt, all nearly $1.4T of it, should be written off, forgiven. You see, this crazy old fart thinks that “free” College for All is a “right,” and that government should pay for it.

With high demand, which includes foreign students, there’s little reason to cut prices for tuition and such. Higher education has a fairly assured stream of revenue. And some of that revenue comes from state legislatures which make annual gifts from state treasuries to state universities courtesy of taxpayers, some of whom can’t afford tuition.

Another type of inflation is bloat, and America’s colleges and universities have become quite bloated. They’ve created bureaucratic sinecures for armies of new administrators, as in offices of Diversity and Inclusion, which require their own vice chancellors to ensure that federal mandates, like Title IX, are adhered to. And there’s the bloat of the new “disciplines,” such as Gender Studies. America wouldn’t have split the atom nor gone to the Moon with such graduates, nor will they help us compete with the Chinese. And there’s the bloat of the new amenities colleges offer, like fancy health spas. If you know that all you want is to just become an electrical engineer and go to work for Intel or AMD, sorry kid, you gotta help pay for the bloat first.

Another type of inflation is grade inflation. Employers claim that too many of today’s graduates are barely literate, and can’t function well at their jobs. Nonetheless, graduates have all the correct opinions on race, gender, how the country should be run, etc. They’ve paid through the nose with nothing to show for it but being nicely indoctrinated with all the latest political psychobabble. One might actually graduate from college a worse person than one was before entering. In recent years we’ve had ample evidence of this in the treatment of guest speakers at various colleges. Why aren’t these student hooligans being expelled?

Students are ignorant, that’s why they’re in school, to rectify that sad condition. But their “tenured radical” professors tell them they know more than their elders and should protest the appearances of conservatives and libertarians, like David Horowitz, Ann Coulter, Ben Shapiro, and Charles Murray. If these students would just shut their ignorant yaps and listen, not only could they learn something from these guest speakers, but they might also have a few laughs. Time was when odd, edgy, outrageous speakers like Milo Yiannopoulos would have been warmly welcomed by students. It seems that curiosity has been bred out of today’s “snowflake” college kids.

I was once told by a college English professor that college isn’t a business. Well then, why do they advertise? And why do they tell their recruits how much more money they’ll earn if they just get one of their degrees?

There’s a new trend for four-year liberal arts colleges to start calling themselves “universities,” even though they still don’t have medical, dental, and law schools. Nor do such “universities” have graduate programs in much of anything, except maybe the odd MBA. Such relabeling is false advertising. (Maybe junior colleges will start thinking they’re universities.)

Just as government screwed up the market for health insurance, it has also screwed up the market for higher education. Government needs to quit throwing money at colleges. Congress should end federally-backed student loans. At the very least, taxpayers shouldn’t be backing loans for degrees in the touchy-feely majors, like literature, art history, and music. Those are areas that most of us, including me, revere. But the feds can’t afford to subsidize them any longer. Also, such studies aren’t in the “public interest” in the way that engineering, medicine, and science are. Besides, America really doesn’t need any more bartenders with degrees in philosophy.

Ending federally-backed student loans would surely create a scramble in academia to adapt. But only by turning off the money spigot will colleges be forced to reorganize, cut bloat, reduce staff, and operate more efficiently so that prices for an education might be reasonable.

Perhaps the dearest cost of college is in having a generation of young Americans seriously in debt before they even start out in life.

Jon N. Hall of Ultracon Opinion is a programmer/analyst from Kansas City. 

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