So recently I’ve seen a string of articles on whether or not college is worth the money or the fact that the college tuition is a bubble about to burst. And to that I respond let it burst and let’s let the federal government help it along, because this will actually be a good thing.
For decades now the federal government has encouraged people to go to college. They do this because we need more educated people in this country if we going to survive as an economic powerhouse (that or we can continue shipping a lot of college grads in and shipping a lot of jobs out). And the method the government thought best? Why through loans and grants.
Funny thing happened though. (Not really that funny, because any high school grad who has taken even a semi-competent course in Econ could have seen this coming).
(Numbers have been simplified for ease of reading but the general principle is true). Let’s say it costs $1,000 a year to go to college. To help you out the government gave you $900 worth of grants and loans. Suddenly next year the total cost is $2000? The government not seeing any correlation between its loan and tuition costs says they’ll now cover $1500 worth of your costs. The next year all your costs for college are $2700. The government now will cover $2000 and tuition next year is $3300. I’m sure by now you have already seen where this is going; every time the government pays more the colleges raise their costs because they know the government will cover that. If you saw that pattern congratulations, you’re smarter than a chimp and most members of Congress. Further bonus points if you see how this is exactly like what happened when the government forced banks to make loans on houses and housing prices went up. Only it’s worse.
Take a look at this chart. See the housing market. See how that bubble burst. And see how it was out pacing the CPI (consumer price index, or the primary measurement of inflation). And now see how tuition makes the housing bubble look like a hiccup we can ignore. Yeah, that’s going to go well.
There have been some complaints that the federal government is not paying for technical colleges and this is discriminatory. We should be grateful they’re not paying for technical college…it’s probably why technical college is still affordable.
Should we blame the colleges for having a very human and very predictable level of greed? A little. They clearly had fancy new wings and shinny new stadiums more on their mind than the best interest of the students. But is the obese child to blame or the parent who keeps feeding them McDonalds? After all these are academics we’re talking about. These are people who make high school teachers look like worldly people with vast amounts of street smarts. Did they know any better? Doubtful, they’ve never been in the real world or the private sector where people expect results if they give you piles of money. Academia should be pitied not scolded.
But government is to blame in this too. (Not to mention the morons who keep electing them. The sad problem in democracy is that you might not always get the best government, but you always get the government you deserve.)
So what should we do about it? Why isn’t that obvious? Stop all federal loans and grants for college tuition. Everything. Every last dime. Kill it. Pay out what we’ve promised for this year, but after that destroy it all with the zeal of an arachnophobic killing a spider.
What will happen? Well suddenly 90% of all colleges will be of the range of what 99% of all students can pay. Colleges may be run by academics, but they’re not run by complete morons. They’ll look at the laws of supply and demand and realize if they’re going to keep their students they better cut their tuition costs… a lot. Which will suddenly make college more affordable for everyone.
Yes there will be some side effects.
First a lot more people are going to go to community college for their first two years since they’re going to have to pay out of their own pocket they’re going to pick the cheaper option. More people going to community college will mean that the community colleges will actually have the money to pay for more facilities, better teachers, more courses and actually be something other than a joke and fodder for NBC.
On the flip side the 4-year colleges will have to do some cutting. I’m going to guess on what a few of those cuts might be. First up T.A.’s. I imagine if they have to make cuts they will tell professors that they actually have to teach their own classes. Which is an interesting concept…because I don’t know if you know this, but professors know stuff….which if they’re in the classroom they can teach you things. As someone who went to a college that didn’t have T.A.’s I can tell you it’s amazing the things you can learn from professors. Like knowledge. It’s a radical concept for higher education, I know, but I think it’s worth a try. Because otherwise you’re just paying a huge amount of cash to have a T.A. tell you to read a textbook. At which point we’re at that great quote from Good Will Hunting “you dropped a hundred and fifty grand on a fuckin’ education you coulda got for a dollar fifty in late chares at the public library.” Trust me, as it currently stands, if you take a look at the top 15 colleges in the nation, they’re all hideously overpriced and not worth the money. (Yes, I know 2 of the top 15 are free, but they’re military schools which means you would have to take orders from Obama…no amount of saving money is worth that…under any other Presidency they are among the highest value available, under this idiot, well…).
And maybe colleges can stop wasting their student’s money on really ugly art…like that…
And I will admit some money will probably be diverted that would once go to smashing really small particles together in ways that will never help anyone in science departments that are actually researching things like alternative fuel sources and ways to make things cheaper or better (in other words patents that can bring in money). That will be a real shame.
Finally, yes some colleges will have to cut their sports programs. Why? Well, as Thomas Sowell points out in Economic Facts and Fallacies most colleges lose money on their sports programs. Lots of money. In fact in Sowell’s book it speculated that maybe 10 of the 1,000 NCAA institutions are in the black. With coaches and recruiters making in excess of six figure salaries is that really a shock? Now I’m sure the first reaction will be to raise ticket prices (by maybe a 1000% that’s about what it would take when the students who want learn aren’t subsidizing the jocks). But I have a feeling that no one is so in favor of college basketball and football that they’ll be willing to pay for what it currently costs. For students this will not be a loss as the remaining jocks might actually now be held to some kind of standard (I base the fact that most professional football players can’t string a sentence together, but they sure can welcome back a guy who tortures animals). …Interestingly enough I suspect if football is no longer a way to get into college then high schools might start making some truly shocking purchases, like books or teacher’s salaries, instead of shelling out half the budget for new team uniforms (but I might be overly optimistic in this).