Higher education: Paved with good intentions
Saturday, January 16, 2015
By Beth Cody, Writers’ Group member
Iowa City Press-Citizen

The White House announced last week its latest proposal to hasten the destruction of the American higher education system. As if taxpayers aren’t already burdened enough, the latest proposal calls for the American public to foot the bill for two years of community college for anyone who wants to go.

I’m sure that President Obama’s intentions are good. But that’s the story throughout the history of the diminishment of American higher education: good intentions. And we all should know where this road leads.

  • *The President’s intention is to funnel more high school graduates into college – after Tennessee initiated such a program, 90% of the state’s graduating class applied for it.

 

But academic degrees have already been devalued by making them so easy to obtain that they no longer represent any attainment of learning. Equally, community colleges have displaced the traditional apprenticeship model for skilled manual jobs, forcing students to pay for training that once was learned on the job.

  • *Congress’s intention has been to make borrowing for college easier, but universities have reaped most of the benefits of the cash cow federal loan programs, using the immense funding to charge higher tuition, build fancier facilities and hire more administrators (although many of the administrative army are specifically hired to deal with the massive paperwork that federal intervention in higher education has spawned).

 

But making borrowing so easy has, predictably, led to unwise borrowing by seventeen-year-old students who have been told that college is the road to riches. Some people believe it would be cruel to discourage college dreams by imposing lending requirements (similar to banks’ mortgage requirements) that increase the likelihood of repayment: intended major, test scores, etc. However, this “tough love” would protect students from making financially unwise decisions.

Instead, government has made it easy to avoid repayment, through forbearance programs and even forgiveness programs for “public” workers (do we really have such a shortage of non-productive workers and government employees that we need to subsidize and encourage more of them through this double injury to taxpayers?).

  • *College administrators’ intention has been to increase the prestige of their schools. This can be done through increasing academic reputation and through building fancy facilities. Both draw more applicants, which decreases the admission rate (a measure of exclusiveness) in top-level universities, and results in more students paying tuition in less choosy schools, money that can be plowed into even more buildings and administrators. Academics, however, have been “dumbed down” so that more students can borrow money and attend.

 

Colleges can charge more for tuition when Congress allows students to borrow higher amounts of money to pay for it, and colleges have no “skin in the game” when it comes to defaults by students who graduate with overpriced, valueless degrees.

  • *Undergraduate students’ intention is to pay for a credential that requires as little academic effort as possible. Most of them want to have fun, enjoying luxurious conditions that they intend to become accustomed to after graduating and earning a six-figure salary.  Their feelings of disillusionment, being cheated and being sold into servitude are understandable, as is their rising default rate of nearly 20% and further 16% forbearance rate.

 

  • *Parents’ intention is to help their children earn the credentials for well-paid work. Many do not realize, however, that the rules of the game have changed in the two decades since they were of college age. Tuition has tripled, loans are now non-revocable and degrees are devalued.

The only way out of this confounded mess is to get government out of higher education entirely. This could be done incrementally in a controlled manner, or more likely, will be done when the federal government can no longer continue to pay for everything for everyone by taxing, borrowing or printing money. When our government and nation collapse under the burden, then we will see where this road leads that we’ve paved with such generous intentions.