Sie sind auf Seite 1von 7

Education

College
Catastrophe
AP Images

By encouraging government student loans, and then charging higher tuition, colleges and
universities have not only created an economic bubble, theyve changed the culture.

by Charles Scaliger from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 21.62 Universities, published several specimens
percent, or 482,784, of all customer ser- of medieval students letters home to their

L
ast year, Americas student loan vice representatives have a college degree; parents, in which the students complain
sector swept past two important alongside them are 13.4 percent of waiters about the difficulty of the courses and the
milestones in rapid succession, and waitresses (317,759), 16.64 percent inadequacy of their living conditions
milestones with ominous portent. Some- of secretaries and administrative assis- and ask for more money to be sent! Little
time in the spring of 2011, the amount tants (559,571), 5.01 percent of janitors has changed over the centuries, except that
of total student loan debt surpassed the (107,457), and 5.09 percent of truck drivers nowadays, instead of studying canon law
amount of total credit card debt for the (85,205). Hundreds of thousands of others and Latin, typical college students can
first time ever. Toward the end of the year, with college degrees are tending bar, pre- choose from menus of hundreds of differ-
total student loan debt appears to have paring food, manning concession booths, ent courses ranging from the hard sciences
breached the $1 trillion mark, prompting clerking at hotel desks, and performing a and mathematics to modern conceits like
warnings of another asset bubble poised very wide range of important, useful, and gender studies. And medieval universities
for a calamitous bursting. perfectly dignified forms of work work like Oxford, Bologna, and the Sorbonne,
that pays too little to allow realistic repay- whatever their other considerable inad-
Overcharged or Underpaid? ment of gargantuan student loans, and for equacies, did not impose punitive costs
The numbers associated with student debt which a four- or five-year undergraduate for tuition and other fees that kept their
tell a sobering tale. Since 1999, student degree is completely unnecessary. graduates in financial bondage for most of
loan debt, adjusted for inflation, has risen The Great Recession has been driving their productive years.
by more than 500 percent, while other such figures for years now, but Americans Until comparatively recently, college
forms of personal debt have increased by appetite for the mythic college degree con- degrees, both graduate and undergraduate,
only about 100 percent. The average tinues unabated, seemingly without con- were designed for a fairly elite slice of so-
college graduate now carries more than cern for the cost. Will this state of affairs ciety that genuinely desired academic ad-
$25,000 in debt, an obligation that often ever change, and what will be the outcome? vancement beyond normal societal expec-
takes decades to pay off. College educations have always been tations and intended to become teachers,
A large percentage of college graduates a time of frugality and penury. Historian professors, researchers, and practitioners
find themselves underemployed, often with Charles Homer Haskins, the distinguished of a few exclusive professions like medi-
jobs that they might have been able to find Harvard historian who was Americas first cine, law, and engineering. A college edu-
without the vaunted college degree. A few medievalist, in his path-breaking early cation came with few frills other than the
cases in point: According to data gleaned study on medieval universities, The Rise of chance to learn at the feet of some of the

Call 1-800-727-TRUE to subscribe today! 17


Education

which are usually reckoned campus student housing, where students


among the better bargains often crowd in four or six per apartment in
The numbers associated with student debt ranges from around $7,000 order to afford high rentals, will cost tens
tell a sobering tale. Since 1999, student per academic year (the Uni- of thousands more. And because few col-
versity of Wisconsin-Madi- lege students possess skills that will earn
loan debt, adjusted for inflation, has risen
son, for example) to just shy them more than entry-level work waiting
by more than 500 percent, while other of $17,000 per year for Penn tables, stocking shelves, or doing janitorial
forms of personal debt have increased by State University, the most ex- work, even students who forgo the parties,
pensive land-grant institution road trips, and other distractions of student
only about 100 percent. in the country. Textbooks life for part-time or even full-time work
routinely cost hundreds of will not be able to avoid borrowing money
dollars apiece, and additional to finance their education.
worlds elite minds, and was correspond- fees can run into the hundreds of dollars And this is bargain-basement higher
ingly priced so that most students could per semester. Room and board, whether in education. Many private liberal arts col-
pay for their education by working sum- warren-like dorms with no semblance of leges and Ivy League schools charge
mers and odd hours during the school year, curfews or quiet hours or in blocks of off- tens of thousands of dollars per year for
or at most borrow from the bank a sum
that could easily be repaid within a few
years of graduation. Well do I remember a
particular professor from my undergradu-
ate years, who got his Ph.D. from the Uni-
versity of Pennsylvania, the Ivy League
school founded by Ben Franklin, who told
me that his tuition bill back in the early
50s was around 50 dollars per semester
(roughly $450 in todays currency). He in-
formed me that a part-time job during the
school year and summer employment was
more than adequate back then to cover all
the costs of a college degree.
My own parents both attended the ex-
pensive and fairly elite Bucknell Univer-
sity back in the late 50s and early 60s.
They married a year before my father fin-
ished college, and finished paying back
their college loans only 10 years later, an
event in my young life that I remember
well. And they did it despite having three
children and living on a single, very aver-
age income (my fathers).
Such a scenario, except for the very
few fortunate enough to earn an athletic
or academic scholarship or whose parents
are able and willing to pay the tab in full,
is unthinkable nowadays. (Full disclo-
sure: This author was the beneficiary of a
faculty brat steep tuition discount as an
undergraduate, and was blessed to gradu-
ate without debt of any kind.) The cost of
four years worth of tuition (not to men-
tion room and board, textbooks, and the
myriad steep fees universities routinely
assess for parking, use of athletic facili-
AP Images
ties, and the like) has soared far beyond
the means of any student to pay at the time Waiting for full employment: Thanks to the moribund economy, hundreds of thousands of
they are assessed. Tuition for in-state stu- college graduates, desperate to service their towering loans, now wait tables, perform janitorial
dents at large land-grant universities duties, and carry out other jobs for which a college degree is completely unnecessary.

18 THE NEW AMERICAN August 20, 2012


undergraduate tuition. Postgraduate tu-
itions are steeper still, with even middle-
tier law schools and MBA programs typi-
cally charging tens of thousands of dollars
per year for tuition. Medical schools, of
course, are more expensive still, usually
leaving freshly minted M.D.s with hun-
dreds of thousands in debt. And a coveted
M.D. or J.D. is no guarantee of success,
as many bankrupt doctors and lawyers
eventually discover. Many of them spend
decades paying off towering debts; Presi-
dent Obama himself has admitted to still
carrying significant debt from his own law
school days.
Student loans, once incurred, can al-
most never be discharged by bankruptcy,
unlike nearly all other forms of debt. This
was not always the case; legislation passed
in 2005 turned even private student loans AP Images

into no-risk ventures for banks, whereby The price of a profession: These incoming medical students, shown here taking the Hippocratic
borrowers could be compelled by almost Oath, are willing to shoulder six-figure debts and many years of repayment in exchange for a
any means possible to repay them, and no medical degree. The high salaries commanded by M.D.s are often offset by heavy debts and
amount of personal hardship of the sort interest left over from college and medical school.
that usually drives otherwise responsible
people into bankruptcy serious health viet Union technologically (Sputnik had student status. Not only that, repayment
problems, accidents, business failures, been launched the previous year), required (and the accrual of interest) on such loans
and so on could bring any relief to the all recipients to produce an affidavit deny- can be deferred if the student continues
debtor. ing any belief in the overthrow of the U.S. with graduate-level studies. A student thus
government. Despite its distinctly anti- can borrow tens of thousands of dollars to
Blowing Up College Costs communist tone, the NDEA represented finance an undergraduate education, and
This state of affairs has only been a few the first concrete steps to bring American then defer payment and interest accrual on
decades in the making, and has come colleges and universities under federal the loan for years afterwards while work-
about as a direct consequence of govern- control, by manipulation of the student ing on a J.D., Ph.D., and so forth. Taxpay-
ment interference in the higher education loan market. ers must cover the interest accrued on such
market on a massive scale. The federal It was President Lyndon Johnsons loans during periods of interest deferral.
governments first foray into higher edu- Great Society cluster of new govern- PLUS loans, meanwhile, allow parents to
cation was with the post-World War II G.I. ment programs in the 1960s, however, that borrow government money to pay for their
bill, which conferred benefits on military permanently entrenched the federal gov- childrens college education. PLUS loans
veterans wishing to attend college. The ernment in the dubious business of sub- ordinarily require repayment to begin
Servicemens Readjustment Act of 1944 sidizing college educations. The Higher within 60 days of issuance, but they may
offered World War II veterans cash pay- Education Act of 1965 (HEA) created a also be used to cover part-time as well as
ments covering both college tuition and range of new scholarships and introduced full-time schooling.
living expenses. By 1956, more than two subsidies for student loans. Title IV of Since 1965, the HEA has been reau-
million war veterans had taken advantage this act provided for several categories of thorized nine times, each time with more
of the bill, a government program that loans, now known as Stafford, Perkins, and more aid monies and education ben-
most Americans, grateful for the sacrifices and PLUS loans. The former two were and efit programs superadded. Federal student
of the World War II generation, perceived are loans issued to students to help defray loans and grants have always been billed
as beneficial and morally defensible de- the cost of college up to certain limits, and as a tool to keep college education afford-
spite its dubious constitutionality. subject to lax eligibility requirements. The able, but in the nearly 50 years since HEA
Also in the 1950s, the federal govern- Stafford loan, in its fully subsidized va- was first passed, they have done precisely
ment began offering loans to certain select riety, is the most popular, since it allows the opposite. This is because government
students, mostly in engineering, science, students to borrow up to a total of more manipulation of the credit markets, os-
and education, under the National Defense than $50,000 without having any interest tensibly to keep borrowing rates afford-
Education Act of 1958 (NDEA). This act, accrue until after the end of a six-month able for the little guy, always does the
driven in part by American fears that the grace period following graduation, drop- opposite. By driving interest rates below
United States was falling behind the So- ping out, or going to less than full-time what the market would otherwise set, such

www.TheNewAmerican.com 19
Education

publishers, for example And this same type of distorted pricing is


to charge vastly more found in many parts of the higher education
According to data gleaned from the for their products than they sector. When I was an undergraduate in the
Bureau of Labor Statistics, 21.62 percent, could possibly get for com- 1980s, for example, students were allowed
parable markets outside of to use swimming pools, weight rooms, rac-
or 482,784, of all customer service
the higher education sector. quetball courts, and the like for free, as long
representatives have a college degree; Thus a hardcover non-text- as they could flash a current student ID.
alongside them are 13.4 percent of waiters book volume of 500 pages, Today, at the very same institution, students
with color pictures and a are charged a fee every semester for use of
and waitresses (317,759) and 16.64 percent dust jacket, that might re- such physical-fitness facilities, which typi-
of secretaries and administrative assistants. tail for $40 on Amazon. cally ranges from $50 to $100.
com, would cost several
hundred dollars if repack- Costs Lead to Cultural Changes
government actions not only encourage aged and sold as a course textbook. Of For those of us associated with higher edu-
excessive borrowing, they also drive costs course, college textbooks are often written cation for decades, the vertiginous rise of
up. Put otherwise: In the college educa- and edited by large teams of authors and tuition rates and the proliferation of fees
tion market, potential customers (students printed on glossy, very high-quality paper have wrought a wholesale transformation
and their parents) know they will have ac- when compared with the latest mass-mar- in the culture of higher education. For one
cess to credit on terms far laxer than what ket history tome by David McCullough. thing, because a college education has
they would get if they borrowed from a But thats precisely the point: While there become prohibitively costly, a higher and
private party without government subsi- is no reason a physics or economics text- higher proportion of students, understand-
dies, underwriting, or guarantees. This book could not be authored by one person ably worried about their ability to repay
makes them more willing to borrow than and printed on the same type of paper, and debts, are focusing more and more on de-
would otherwise be the case, and allows with the same proportion of illustrations, gree tracks that will maximize their training
colleges and universities to charge more as any other hardcover, they are not, be- and earning potential in areas like business
for tuition, fees, and other services, be- cause those who manufacture and market management, accounting, and computer
cause they know this artificial credit mar- textbooks are well aware that market dis- technology. A four-year college degree,
ket can bear it, at least in the short run. It tortions allow students (or their parents) after all, costs the same whether it is in
also allows others participating in the col- to pony up $500 to $1,000 per semester history or in nursing but in bottom-line
lege education marketplace textbook for textbooks. terms, the latter is a far better investment.
Students who perceive a college educa-
tion as merely a glorified license to prac-
tice accounting, hotel management, or in-
formation security tend to regard required
courses in history, writing, mathematics,
art, foreign languages, culture, and the
like as pointless encumbrances foisted on
them by an outdated system of education-
al values, and complain ceaselessly about
being forced to take courses that will
have nothing to do with running a hotel or
analyzing a corporate balance sheet.
Colleges and universities, in their turn,
are responding to students demands by
deprioritizing and defunding programs
in the humanities and in other traditional
areas where student demand has fallen.
My employer, a large land-grant univer-
sity that was founded in the mid-19th
century primarily to promote agricultural
research and development, has responded
to budget shortfalls during the Great Re-
AP Images cession by making massive cuts in what
Textbook case of profiteering: Spiraling college tuition isnt the only contributor to the high was once its flagship program, the College
cost of a college education. Textbook publishers, aware of the access to cheap credit enjoyed by of Agriculture this because relatively
college students, charge astronomical prices for textbooks. Students often pay a thousand dollars few students want to pursue a career in
or more per semester just to purchase a few books. agriculture anymore.

20 THE NEW AMERICAN August 20, 2012


AP Images

Paying for frills: Universities and colleges see the need to erect expensive new recreational facilities, like this college gymnasium, and have built
dorm complexes, sports stadiums, and other showpiece buildings far beyond what a post-bubble real estate market can possibly justify. All of these
glitzy facilities have to be paid for, and student tuition, subsidized by taxpayer dollars, is the ticket.

Colleges and universities everywhere and astrophysicist, and Albert Michelson, dependence on government funding and
have been moving aggressively to re- a physicist at the Case School of Applied subsidies, outlandish modern disciplines
structure along corporate lines, with le- Science at Cleveland, and the first Ameri- like Lesbian and Gay Studies enjoy clout
gions of bureaucrats tasked with writing can scientist to receive a Nobel Prize, once all out of proportion to the actual valid-
and enforcing volumes of administrative defined the American academic landscape. ity of program content or demand among
protocol. In other words, American col- Such innovators are still to be found, espe- college students. Absent shrill special in-
leges and universities are transforming cially in enclaves of high-level theoretical terest groups lobbying politicians on be-
into behemoth business, trade, and tech- science like Cal Tech and the Princeton half of such programs, it is inconceivable
nical schools, and moving away from the Institute for Advanced Study, but todays that colleges and universities would go to
relatively exclusive model of liberal edu- universities are dominated by legions of the trouble to sustain them this, while
cation that animated their founders. Men students putting in their time in exchange degree programs in the likes of classical
like Eli Yale, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas for a coveted admission ticket to a remu- studies and philosophy are jettisoned al-
Jefferson, and Ezra Cornell, all of whom nerative profession or trade, and by un- most routinely.
founded elite universities that today ser- wieldy bureaucracies dedicated to getting
vice tens of thousands of American stu- them there at an inflated cost. Traded In for Trade Schools
dents, perceived universities as institutions Another consequence of this new higher All of this skyrocketing costs, dumbed-
dependent on endowments and donations education market has been the well-doc- down curricula, a de-emphasis on more
by wealthy idealists who wished to further umented dumbing down of standards. traditional fields in favor of professional
cultural advancement in areas where inno- Because 21st-century college education certification and programs promoting radi-
vation would not necessarily be profitable comes with the expectation of optimal cal social agendas, and top-heavy admin-
in mathematics, in philology, in the employability with minimal effort, and istration and bureaucracy is the conse-
study of history, and the like. Such institu- because colleges and universities are no quence of decades-old systemic market
tions were designed primarily for the com- longer competing merely for elite stu- distortions created by federal government
paratively few individuals interested in dents desiring an education for its own interference in higher education, espe-
becoming either academics scientists, sake but for masses of businessmen and cially with subsidized student loans and
teachers, and researchers or quasi-aca- accountant wannabes, college faculties grants. As with all other asset bubbles, this
demic, highly skilled professionals in law, are under withering pressure to make sure one is about more than just astronomical
medicine, and a few other areas. In such a that coursework does not inconvenience prices; the entire makeup of the system
context, early American universities were tuition-paying clients. has changed (indeed, the fact that it can
indeed centers where learning advanced. Yet another consequence is the politi- be characterized as a system in the first
Men like Harvards Benjamin Peirce, cization of college curricula, especially place is indicative of central planning).
Americas first mathematical physicist in the humanities, where, given heavy Probably the most pernicious of all side

Call 1-800-727-TRUE to subscribe today! 21


Education

effects of this bubble is the transforma-


tion of colleges and universities into trade
schools issuing degrees that, in more level-
headed times, would be deemed a waste of
money. Why, after all, should someone in-
tending to inherit the family business have
a college degree? Or, for that matter, an in-
surance salesman, investment advisor, ac-
countant, hotel manager, or any of a host
of other entrants in well-paid professions,
let alone the overwhelming majority of
Americas entrepreneurial class? It is no
accident that many of Americas most suc-
cessful individuals, like Kirk Kerkorian
and Bill Gates, do not possess college de-
grees. Nor, once in the not-so-recent past,
was a college degree deemed a necessity
for the multitudes of people who perform
much of Americas most important work. AP Images

Even with a college degree, prospective Debt jockey: Millions of American college students depend on bank student-loan representatives,
insurance salesmen or financial planners, such as this employee of the Bank of North Dakota, to finance their education. Banks are generous
for example, must still undergo rigorous in doling out loans, but not at all forgiving when unemployed or underemployed college graduates
training and licensing designed to ac- find themselves unable to service their debt.
quaint them with the intricacies of their
field. Such people, understandably, havesure to post-secondary education was lim- America is learning to adjust to new re-
ited to a 10-week course in business). All
little use for a freshman writing course. So alities occasioned by bursting bubbles in
why insist on college at all? of which is to say that success is not neces- stocks and real estate and to long-term
sarily measurable in terms of credit hours.
The hard truth is that the pre-World War high unemployment, so too will our coun-
II way of doing things, in which higher None of which is to disparage com- try soon recalibrate its cultural expecta-
education was divided between colleges/ mendable research into business, ac- tions regarding college educations. In
counting, and management by competent
universities on the one hand and trade and coming years, look either for college en-
business schools on the other, with hugeresearchers. Most business students, how- rollments to decline sharply or for colleges
ever, do not aim to become professors at
numbers of successful professionals neither and universities to make massive cuts in
wanting nor needing a college education Wharton; they instead seek a basic knowl- expenses, including faculty pay and ben-
edge of the trade, which usually can be
at all, was far more beneficial than what efits, administrative costs, and building
we have today. Many of Americas most more efficiently provided by Americas construction, among many other things.
successful men from that era, including many excellent business schools and for- The distortions brought about by gov-
inventors Thomas Edison and the Wright profit universities (like the University of ernment interference in higher educa-
brothers, journalist H. L. Mencken, and Phoenix), without the costly frills of a uni- tion, and especially the subsidizing of
entrepreneurs like Henry Ford and John versity B.A. or B.S. student loans, have had every bit as far
D. Rockefeller, never got a college degree And the time is fast approaching that reaching an effect on the higher educa-
American parents and their college-age
(Rockefeller founded two universities but tion sector as government subsidies and
never attended one; probably the richestchildren will come to this realization, in other distortions of the real estate sector
American in history, Rockefellers expo-droves. As the economic slowdown drags have had on the housing market, and the
on with no rebound in hous- outcome will be no less wrenching. But
ing or employment, more as with the rupturing of the real estate
I remember a particular professor and more will perceive the bubble, the coming agonizing return to
inflated costs of a college sanity brought about by the collapse of
from my undergraduate years, who degree as a hindrance to suc- the student loan house of cards will lead
got his Ph.D. from the University of cess. They will discover that in the long run to a more reasonable bal-
their tastes and talents are ance between costs and benefits. In the
Pennsylvania, the Ivy League school better served by entrepre- short run, Americas colleges and uni-
founded by Ben Franklin, who told me that neurial activity, or by pursu- versities face a painful day of reckoning,
ing a vocational or business but in the long run, they will move to-
his tuition bill back in the early 50s was
degree at cheaper commu- ward providing the higher-quality, more
around 50 dollars per semester. nity colleges, trade schools, affordable education that academically
and online programs. Just as inclined Americans used to enjoy. n

22 THE NEW AMERICAN August 20, 2012


Copyright of New American (08856540) is the property of John Birch Society and its content may not be
copied or emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyright holder's express written
permission. However, users may print, download, or email articles for individual use.