By most accounts, American colleges and universities are highly successful businesses, with students clamoring for admission and willing to pay whatever tuition, room, board, and books the school demands. That may seem like an ideal business relationship, where the customers are very happy with the products offered and the business is very happy with the money they receive for their services.
In some recent cases, parents have even been willing to cheat on the admissions process to get their children into favored schools. These wealthy parents have paid bribes above and beyond the already steep costs of a college education to give their children a chance at success. That should be a hint that something is dreadfully wrong.
Students without wealthy parents have been able to compete in this bidding war for a higher education by taking out massive loans through Federal student loan programs that give them access to almost unlimited cash to pay for their education. Although provided by the government with the best of intentions, such cash has greatly distorted the checks and balances that keep most financial decisions within reason. Purchases of other big ticket items on credit, like a house or an automobile, require some evaluation of the borrower’s ability to pay back the loan and in the worst case, the lender’s ability to foreclose on the property.
Without these checks and balances, students easily find themselves saddled with massive debts and no way to pay back the debts, if they fail to get a good education or fail to choose lucrative professions like medicine or the law. To make matters worse, student loans are not erased in bankruptcy proceedings. Hence, many students find themselves heavily burdened as they try to make their way in life after graduation, often unable to afford marriage, a family, a house, or even a car.
This has grim implications for their future as well as for the future of our country. An entire generation is finding itself the victim of a nasty scheme to transfer huge amounts of cash from the Federal treasury to greedy institutions of higher education that falsely promise young people a bright future while delivering only mediocre to poor training and heavy debt.
No wonder so many young people find Socialism so attractive. With its promise of “free stuff,” heavily indebted former students see Socialism as their avenue for survival. They easily lose faith in free enterprise, when that free enterprise has so indentured them at the very beginning of their productive lives. What they fail to recognize is that they have been victimized by a crony capitalist scheme that is largely the opposite of free enterprise. It is a government-political-academic partnership designed to favor academic elitists and their Leftist political partners.
Universities will argue that they provide “scholarships” to deserving students unable to pay their outrageous prices. But these discounts are merely a mechanism for getting as much money as possible out of every parent. No other business is allowed to get away with demanding financial disclosure information to decide what to charge their customers. With colleges and universities, it is routine.
One might suppose that universities with their exceptional brain trust would recognize and be able to avoid killing the goose that has laid so many golden eggs for them. They have every reason to avoid a giant economic bubble that brings their institutions crashing down from their own greed. Yet they continue to charge whatever they think the traffic will bear, just like the greediest of the big businesses they pretend to abhor.
Since they have not accepted any financial risk from their customers defaulting on student loans, they have no reason to be concerned about defaults. Furthermore, they provide no guarantee, explicit or otherwise, that the education students receive will allow them to succeed in life, let alone to pay back the massive debt that they have accrued. Promises that their education will lead to great success are remarkably false in far too many cases. Yet universities are never held accountable for false advertising.
With nothing stopping them, universities continue to escalate their prices far above the rate of inflation. In the last five years, college tuition has escalated 8.3% on average across the United States, room and board have gone up 9.3%, and books and supplies 36.3%. The average college student is now paying $29,133 per year, up $2,835 since 2015 alone.
That means that students can easily run up debts of more than a hundred thousand dollars in just four years. Many reach debts of a quarter of a million dollars, if they attend an Ivy League school and pursue graduate work. That is a very heavy burden.
The only way to stop the insanity is to greatly reduce or eliminate student loans. No rational business would loan students $250,000 dollars to purchase a Rolls Royce, because they have little hope of ever recovering that large a sum of money. Students denied such a luxury merely fall back on a less expensive alternative that they can afford, like a used car.
Similarly, students denied a massive student loan can fall back on much less expensive alternatives. I decided to live at home to save money during my university years. That was not ideal, but it did allow me to get a PhD without any debt. It was a wise decision.
Of course college tuition is much higher today and the quality of education is far inferior. Universities have evolved from centers of learning to centers of progressive politics with an environmental pseudo-religion that rivals the Inquisition of the Middle Ages for intolerance.
Oregon State University is a prime example of an academic institution that has strayed far from the real scholarship and the free exchange of ideas that are usually associated with academia.
A few years ago they refused to extend the contract of a young PhD chemist, Nicholas Drapela, because he dared to disagree with the paradigm that has brought OSU so much government money: Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming. By all accounts, Drapela did a fine job of teaching organic chemistry. And his personal views on Global Warming did not interfere with his teaching. Yet Drapela had to go, because he would not bow to the pseudo-science that has made OSU so successful, economically and politically.
Fast forward to today, and we find OSU hiring other young “scientists” who are so compliant with OSU’s pseudo-religion that they do not even understand the basics of science. For instance, Assistant Professor of Biology Mathew Orr teaches Global Warming orthodoxy, based on a belief that he understands this subject better than those actually trained in the physical sciences and among America’s best and brightest scientists. His recent attacks on Princeton University Professor of Physics Will Happer involved the assertion that no one is qualified to discuss climate except those Orr deems to be ‘experts.’ And to him, the only ‘experts’ are those who follow the orthodoxy!
Never mind that science relies on sturdy logic and robust evidence alone.
Anyone who claims to be a scientist, needs to understand both the Scientific Method and the subjects he teaches. Failing that, he has no business indoctrinating students who pay high prices to acquire real knowledge. Hint to Mathew: science is an objective pursuit, not a political or religious one.
Perhaps we should not come down too hard on young wanna-be academics who do not understand the fundamentals of their subject. We should look to those who hired them and those who run the university.
Why do they favor the big business aspects of their institutions over scholarship? That is a prescription for failure.
Gordon J. Fulks lives in Corbett and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He holds a doctorate in physics from the University of Chicago’s Laboratory for Astrophysics and Space Research and has no conflicts of interest on this subject.