Regardless if their leaders realize or will admit it, American colleges and universities are on the verge of a crisis, which mostly is of their own making.  

According to a report published last month by Neetu Arnold with the National Association of Scholars, ‘Priced Out: What College Costs America,” which finds among other things, that an undergraduate degree is now prohibitively expensive for many Americans, who have turned to the federal government to subsidize their education.
Arnold wrote, “The average price of college has more than doubled since 1980.  Nearly 44 million Americans now owe more than $1.5 trillion in student debt and that’s a lot of money.”

Several factors have contributed to widespread tuition hikes, including university expenditures that aren’t directly related to students or education, Arnold suggests.  Most of it is primarily to professional administration, such as hiring of more deans and directors and officers to comply with the growing number of federal regulations and accreditation reporting requirements.

Most of the credit goes to our great politicians.  The “college for all” narrative motivated passage of the GI Bill, the National Defense Education Act, and the Higher Education Act, although designed to make college more accessible,  inadvertently drove up the price tag for a degree.

After World War II, politicians adopted popular slogans and mantras regarding the necessity of college for all Americas, Arnold explains.  The idea, regardless of how impractical or unrealistic, that every citizen deserves a college degree has increased tremendously government spending and set public policy priorities since at least the Truman administration.

“The ready availability of federal student loans has enriched universities and their administrators on the back of students,” Arnold says.  “Meanwhile, the quality of education has diminished, and the students are therefore unprepared for the job market,” she added.

“Administrators have reallocated too much time and resources toward student comforts and amenities, instead of educational rigor and intellectual diversity.  Education is meant to elevate the mind to new perspectives and unfamiliar ideas, Arnold says.”

Arnold also relates that college have become so expensive, in part, because they depend on federal money and aid that comes with too many regulatory strings attached.  The more government bureaucracy and red tape a university must manage, the more it will spend on compliance officers and offices.

Arnold says “Universities raise their prices knowing that students will take out loans to pay for the increased price and that the students will bear the consequences for their own bad judgement, but the university will escape scot-free with the borrowed tuition money.”

Encouraged to take out a massive loan for education that they cannot afford, students burdened by debt delay marriage, family, career, and home ownership to the detriment of society.  We are entering a period in which Americans who still have student loan debt have children enrolling in college and taking on student debt.  Is that what you call ‘Woke and Broke Syndrome?”

Arnold suggests ‘Income Share Agreements’ by which universities subsidize a student’s tuition in exchange for a portion of the student’s future earnings.  Such an arrangement demonstrates that the university is truly invested in the student’s future and not just interested in the student’s tuition.

As American colleges and universities have grown increasingly radical and progressive in their political messaging and orientation, they have financially exploited the very groups, the poor, ethnic minorities, and first-generation college students.

Arnold wrote, “Universities substantial financial resources to fund social justice activities, and even just to provide salaries for social justice administrators.  But these costs fall upon young students.”

‘Priced Out’ proffers several fixes and corrections to the current system, including consolidating duplicate administrative offices and roles, facilitating information transparency regarding federal grants and aid earlier in the college admission process, creating vocational curricular tracks staffed by practitioners, and holding institutions financially responsible for debt incurred by students who do not graduate.

More reform is needed and Arnold’s alarming and comprehensive report is just one small step in a positive direction.  Universities that take Arnold’s criticisms to heart and adjust accordingly will likely outperform their competitors, in the long run.

Given birthrate declines, diminishing international enrollment, and a growing belief among young Americans that a college degree is no longer worth the price, universities must change.  

Elite college (e.g., those in the Ivy League), colleges with large endowments, and state flagship institutions will probably weather the storm, as it were, but small liberal arts schools are particularly vulnerable in this climate.
Universities that fail or refuse to adapt and evolve could face a grim future, or worse, no future at all.

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