Vernuccio’s View: Have Universities Harmed America? Part 2

Are colleges shortchanging America’s students—at excessive prices? This is the second in a two-part review of problems with higher education in America.

A Consumer Reports study found that 45% of people with student loan debt said that college was not worth the cost. The detrimental impact on the U.S. economy has been dire. 44% of those in tuition debt have cut back on daily expenses, 37% have delayed saving for key financial goals, 28% delayed buying a house,  and 12% delayed marriage. “Step by step, one law after another has been enacted by Congress to make student debt the worst kind of debt for Americans—and the best kind for banks and debt collectors…and in one of the industry’ greatest lobbying triumphs, student loans can no longer be discharged in bankruptcy…”

Donna Rosato, also writing in Consumer Reports, notes: “To put the growing education debt crisis into perspective, many attendees at the conference drew parallels to the housing market bubble of the mid 2000s.  Rohit Chopra, [special adviser to the Department of Education and formerly the top student financial services regulator at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau] pointed out that both going to college and owning a home are goals that people strive to reach. But when something good, like owning a home, involves toxic mortgages, it can quickly becomes a bad situation. Chopra says that we may now be at a similar point with student debt.”

But the problem looms beyond finances.

The American Association of University Professors notes that  “…even as colleges and universities have become the focus of increased attention from the general public and policy makers alike, these institutions themselves seem to have lost their focus on a mission of preparing an informed citizenry for participation in democracy and expanding knowledge for the benefit of all. Without a doubt, higher education still provides a transformative experience for the millions of individuals who take part in its many activities. Behind the scenes, however, American higher education is changing in ways that detract from its potential to enhance the common good.”

The Daily Beast worries that  “This Orwellian climate of intimidation and fear chills free speech and thought. On college campuses it is particularly insidious… Campus censors don’t generally riot in response to presumptively offensive speech, but they do steal newspapers containing articles they don’t like, vandalize displays they find offensive, and disrupt speeches they’d rather not hear. They insist that hate speech isn’t free speech and that people who indulge in it should be punished…On today’s campuses, left-leaning administrators, professors, and students are working overtime in their campaign of silencing dissent, and their unofficial tactics of ostracizing, smearing, and humiliation are highly effective. But what is even more chilling—and more far reaching—is the official power they abuse to ensure the silencing of views they don’t like.”

As colleges become completely dominated by left-wing academics, (see the New York Analysis of Policy and Government study  which reported that Democrats outnumber Republicans by a greater than 10 to 1 ratio, and at many elite universities there was not a single registered Republican on staff) traditional, core beliefs in the unifying principles of America, especially respect for the Constitution and Bill of Rights, as well as adherence to an empirical method of thinking, diminished, reducing the ability to logically review and resolve national challenge.

There is, indeed, an increasingly incestuous relationship between the Democrat Party and the university establishment.  Rather than calling for a halt in excessive tuition rates, (a concept espoused by Democrats in many other pricing areas) Democrat presidential candidates are calling for “free tuition,” meaning that taxpayers would bear the burden. This, of course, would have the net effect of allowing colleges to continue raising rates, in a manner similar to the way that medical costs skyrocketed after third-party payments became commonplace.

The Great American Experiment in College for All, at devastating costs to all, has financially crippled students and their families, and is leading to a financial crisis that may make the housing bubble recession of 2007—2008 look mild. In return for all that burden and risk, a generation has endured significant unemployment and has been indoctrinated into acceptance of views that diminish the accomplishments and merits of their nation, and has inculcated them into acceptance of limitations on their freedom of speech.

Major reforms are needed.  Colleges should be required to explain to applicants and current students what the tuition costs pay for, in detail, with particular emphasis on how much is spent on non-educational salaries and activities.   There should be full disclosure of the percentage of graduates who obtain jobs that make use of a college degree. No federal support should go to institutions that charge excessive rates. Washington should get out of the tuition loan business, and the same consumer protections that apply to other debts should apply to tuition loans. State education departments should provide high-quality alternatives paths to careers that do not require college degrees, including vocational degrees in much-needed (and frequently lucrative) professions such as electricians, plumbing, carpentry, and mechanical fields.

Frank Vernuccio serves as editor-in-chief of the New York Analysis of Policy & Government

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