In the last segment, we mentioned the fact that not all children need to go to college. In this segment, let’s talk about the ones that do.
Higher education is a system that is going through a catharsis. The rise of on-line education will forever change the college experience, reducing the importance of traditional brick-and-mortar schools and allowing new models in which classes are taught not by full-time academics but by professionals who have real-world careers in the subjects they teach.
In the meantime, our college/university system is not performing as it should. There are a number of ways we could improve the system, and quickly:
- Institute a broad reform of degree programs. It borders on fraud for institutions of higher learning to offer useless degrees. “Minority Women’s Studies,” “Ethnic Studies” and so forth produce graduates fit only to do one of two things: Remain in academia and perpetuate the fraud, or pursue a career that involves repeatedly asking “do you want fries with that?” Working against such a reform (among other things) is the fact that a college or university charges the same tuition for a nonsense degree as for a degree in the hard sciences, engineering or business, and the latter degrees are certainly more expensive to teach.
- Continue the decentralization of higher education begun by the rise of online universities. New online models such as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) as described in a recent paper by the libertarian Cato Institute not only provide alternatives to traditional universities, they also:
- Provide cross-border opportunities to students in other parts of the world.
- Eliminate the need for extensive travel, housing costs and so forth for students that would otherwise have to attend a college or university in another city or state.
- Reduce the overall cost of higher education, perhaps dramatically so, by eliminating much of the overhead costs.
- Reduce, if not eliminate, the presence of the Imperial Federal government in higher education. Not only is there no Constitutional provision for the Federal government to be involved in higher education – and I remind you that the Tenth Amendment specifically prohibits the Federal government from engaging in any activity not specifically allowed – such involvement has proved to be wasteful and counter-productive. Let the states and private institutions handle college-level education, as was done throughout most of our nation’s history.
- Likewise, the Imperial Federal government should be removed from the financial aid process. Again, states and private foundations could deliver financial assistance and counseling more efficiently, and it has been shown that an excess of easy financial aid actually serves to drive tuition costs up; this comes as no surprise to anyone who has studied economics, but apparently it is quite a surprise to the Federal government.
Colleges and universities are tasked with producing a product. Their customers are the students and the student’s parents. The product should be a literate, functional adult with skills that are marketable in the private sector; the system must produce a graduate who can offer value to an employer.
In recent years we have seen the rise and decline of the unfortunate “Occupy” movement, many member of which were seen waving signs decrying their student loan debt and their difficulty finding jobs. (See columnist Zombie’s coverage over at Pajamas Media.) Among other things, one could see signs demanding forgiveness of student debt and elimination of tuition – yes, at least one protester demanded that “knowledge should be free.”
Well, knowledge is free – you can get all you want at your local public library – but a college or university cannot be free. Educators and administrative personnel have to be paid. Buildings cost money, as does maintenance and utilities for same. But that money must be earned, and to do so colleges and universities have an important task: To produce graduates capable of taking a productive place in society.
At the present they aren’t doing a very good job.