By Professor Doom
So, I’m looking at a well-researched article discussing the reality of higher education today. The author’s gist is the wealthy go to top tier, expensive schools while the not-so-wealthy are encouraged to go to cheaper schools. The author feels this is a problem, instead the way how things have always worked.
I’ve often written about the bloat of administrators on campus, but I’ve neglected to mention there is also a huge education bureaucracy that now exists off campus, doing…well, nobody knows what these people could possibly do, since private and non-profit institutions don’t require such off-site, “central” offices:
The number of employees in central system offices has increased six-fold since 1987, and the number of administrators in them by a factor of more than 34.
The author blames higher education for this situation, and criticizes the higher cost. Instead of pointing at the obvious issue of massively overpaid, massively overstaffed administrative bureaucracy, he points the finger at other things:
A deeper cause is the dual purpose of universities—to create new knowledge while transmitting what is already known. New fields of inquiry arise (pursued in new departments by new faculty), while old fields are rarely relinquished—at least not at the same pace. Thus costs almost always grow faster than savings.
While many claims are documented, the more outlandish ones, such as the above, are not. Faculty pay hasn’t gone up all that much, and dropped when you consider the rising adjunct work force which teaches most college courses, for a tiny fraction of the cost. Faculty growth has kept in line with student growth, so what rising expense there is for faculty is offset quite a bit by the growth in the student base and huge increase in tuition.
To make matters worse, the trend in dispensing financial aid—both by the states and by colleges themselves—has been moving away from calculations of need toward assessments of “merit” as demonstrated by test scores, extracurricular activities, and the like.
Again, the author seems to have an agenda. “Merit” is exactly what awards should be based on. “Merit” means “worthiness,” after all, so why shouldn’t money go to the worthy? Handing the money out to everyone simply loads down campuses with people who are simply there for the checks. This does not help higher education, and usually doesn’t help the people either, since the time they spend getting the check could be better spent learning a real trade. Yes, the wealthy have an advantage here in some ways, but the author overlooks the idea of scholarship as a way to be worthy of aid. It doesn’t take money to sit down and read.
The article also points a well-deserved finger at for-profit schools, but misses an important reason for today’s mess of higher education:
Large or small, fair or fraudulent, the for-profits have a smart business plan: keep costs down by forgoing a campus and offering courses taught by part-time employees, while pulling in maximum revenue in the form of government grants to students and government-guaranteed student loans. In 1991 Congress passed a rule requiring that in order to qualify for accreditation, a for-profit must show that at least 15 percent of its income comes from nongovernment sources, but in 1998 the rule was watered down to 10 percent. “Despite being regarded as part of the private sector,” as Mettler puts it, “the for-profits are financed almost entirely by American taxpayers.” For investors in these enterprises, it’s been a great plan. For many if not most of their students, whose debt and default rates are proportionally higher than their counterparts in traditional colleges, it’s been a less happy story.
It’s only one word, but it’s key to everything: accreditation. Accreditation was established over a century ago, but it was not created for the purposes of keeping track of money, or for allowing institutions to suck out billions of dollars of taxpayer money into administrative salaries. No, accreditation was a voluntary process by which schools got together and learned from each other how to become better schools, and to standardize education enough that students could transfer from one school to another and be more-or-less on the same page as far as what they’ve learned at a different school.
Instead of becoming a legitimizing process, accreditation has turned into a massive fraud that has nothing to do with education, allowing openly fraudulent schools to flourish. Simultaneously, legitimate schools learned from accreditation that education was irrelevant, and thus many have degenerated into partial or complete frauds.
The complete fraud of accreditation has led to the considerable fraud in higher education. That’s the reality of higher education that people should know.
Now we come to the fixes the author talks about…I can’t help but see a theme here:
Caps on monthly repayment obligations have been lowered to 10 percent of the borrower’s income. Loan forgiveness is now available after twenty years, and, for people working in government or nonprofit public service, after ten years.
Definitely the people who were lured into fraudulent loans for worthless “education” should have those loans forgiven. Realize, however, this is indirectly throwing more money into the system, as “forgiven” loans are ultimately paid by taxpayers. I also wonder why the author doesn’t mention any attempt to take back the money from the thieves who stole it in the first place? Probably because there are no such attempts…but it really strikes me as a better idea than just taking more money from taxpayers.
Other promising ideas are in the air—though in the present political climate few seem likely to find bipartisan favor. In his 2015 State of the Union Address, President Obama called for making community colleges free..
Ah, Obama’s stupid community college plan. The interested reader is encouraged to click on that link where some of the fraud of community college is discussed. This is once again just throwing more money at the system. I simply do not understand how, after throwing over a trillion dollars at higher education, and having it fail and become worse in every way, a rational person could believe that throwing more money at it could be part of the solution.
“Free” education is certainly a workable idea, and already exists. Anybody who wants an education can just go to the library (or use the internet) and get most anything for free already. Realize “free” in this context just means “at taxpayer expense,” although libraries are certainly cheaper to the taxpayer than universities.
University education can certainly be cheaper, but first we need to fix the issues of higher education today. We need to end the madness of “butts in seats” funding that has caused administration to fetishize growth over everything else, so that all fraud is forgivable in the name of growth. Cap enrollment at some percentage of the citizenry, and make admission competitive, so that no more will everything be sacrificed in the name of growth, and no more will campuses have 90% or more of courses that simply re-cover everything the students already could have learned “for free” in our public education system.
These are simple ideas that I’ve covered in more detail elsewhere, and have the huge advantage of not requiring more money to be thrown at the system. The gentle reader needs to understand why nobody in power in higher education will offer these ideas: the people in power are making hundreds of thousands, if not millions, a year continuing to advance “give us more money” solutions, much like this author. As long as they remain in power, higher education will continue to evolve into an ever more efficient system for fleecing young people and forcing them into lives of debt slavery.
And that, gentle reader, is the true reality of higher education today.