Many have written about the scandalous rate of inflation in college and university tuition. Tuition has risen faster than overall inflation. Total higher ed costs (including state support) have risen even faster than medical costs, and medical care has gotten much better even as higher education has gotten much worse! Now, a remarkable proposal has arisen from a remarkable man: Mitch Daniels, former governor of Indiana and current President of Purdue University. This fellow (who was passed over for serious consideration as GOP presidential nominee in 2012 because of his charisma deficiency) has not only suggested, but actually implemented this amazing concept: Freeze tuition and require administrators to cut costs! He is quoted in an April 24 Wall Street Journal article entitled “How to Save American Colleges” by Kate Bachelder. It is behind a paid subscriber paywall, but it is summarized by Instapundit here, and National Review Online’s “Phi Beta Cons” blog here. Phi Beta Con’s Jane Shaw’s take “Canary in the Coal Mine?”:
We’ve been discussing whether the decision by Sweet Briar to close is a sign of future closures of colleges. Here’s Mitch Daniels, president of Purdue and former Indiana governor, on the subject: The jig is about up. “I don’t know what the rate of the shake out will be, but you can already see the front edges,” Mr. Daniels says, referring to colleges that have begun shutting down. “A year or two ago, it was schools you hadn’t even heard of. This year it was Sweet Briar,” he says, of the 114-year-old Virginia women’s college that announced last month it is closing because of “insurmountable financial challenges.”
With acceptance letters in hand, millions of high-schools seniors ruminating over where to attend college—and their parents who are panicked that their kid might pick the place with the best climbing wall—should all take a breath: It doesn’t much matter where you go to college. What matters is “how you go,” says Purdue University President Mitch Daniels, the former governor of Indiana. He then lays out the results of the Gallup-Purdue Index, a national survey of 30,000 college graduates that was first released last year. The survey attempts to quantify not only what graduates earn but also how well they are navigating adult life. A mere 39% of college graduates report feeling engaged with their work, and in that group as many hail from top-100 schools as don’t. The three most important contributions that college makes to a sense of workplace thriving after graduation: Having one professor who made you excited about learning, feeling as though teachers cared about you, and working with a mentor. Graduates who checked those boxes were more than twice as likely to sense they are flourishing at work. But only 14% of those surveyed said they had hit that trifecta in college. Other positive factors from undergraduate experience: working on a long-term project, having an internship and participating in extracurricular activities. Where graduates went to college barely registered as a predictor of job satisfaction. That was two years ago, soon after Mr. Daniels arrived at Purdue. His first order of business: freeze tuition. “I had a sense, first of all, it seemed like the right thing to do. Not to skip over that. But secondly that we probably could do it without great difficulty,” he says. For decades college tuition has outpaced inflation, forcing students to increase their borrowing, but next year’s Purdue seniors will have never seen a tuition increase. “I thought this whole process—it’s sort of like a bubble, and people are using that term—just couldn’t go on much further, and so why not get off the escalator before it broke,” he says. Not many colleges have followed, and Mr. Daniels has a few theories about why. “Corporate boards 15 years ago or so were roundly and rightly criticized for being too compliant with the desires of management. If this was true of corporate boards, I think it’s really been true of a lot of college boards and trustees,” he says. “They have such an affection for dear old alma mater, love those 50-yard-line seats, ‘Whatever you want to do, Mr. President.’ And so it’s been observed a long time that colleges will spend everything they can get their hands on, in the absence of either market pressure or stewardship by a strong-minded board.” There is also what he considers an “insidious” idea that “if we don’t raise our price, people will think we don’t have confidence in our product.” He points out that “in the absence of proof, people assume a higher price must be a better product or education.” But according to data released last year, half of high-school seniors accepted by their first-choice college attended a different school, and most cited cost as the reason.
Instapundit also tells of another expose, this one from NRO’s Phi Beta Cons, “A Degree Signifying Nothing” by Jesse Saffron:
The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) has released a report titled “The Unkindest Cut: Shakespeare in Exile 2015.” According to the report’s author, Dr. Michael Poliakoff, only 4 out of the top 52 liberal arts colleges and universities in the country require English majors to take a course on Shakespeare. “If reading Shakespeare is not central to a liberal education, what is? For English majors to miss out is far worse. A degree in English without serious study of Shakespeare is like a major in Greek Literature without the serious study of Homer. It is tantamount to fraud. A department that claims to cover the full span of literature written in English and represent the highest standards of academic study cannot marginalize the writer most honored and beloved in English literary history,” writes Poliakoff. The report notes that, while many colleges are giving Shakespeare superficial treatment, trendy courses, and even courses that focus on the works of children’s book authors, are growing in number. As ACTA’s president Anne Neal said in a recent interview, “It’s no wonder that the public is rapidly losing faith in our colleges and universities.”
Phi Beta Con exclusively covers the sad state of higher ed. Instapundit covers lots of other things as well. Both are invaluable. If you are planning on sending yourself or your kids to college, you ought to check them both regularly. If nothing else, they will help you check many places off your list for consideration. Looking for a pricey bastion of trendy PC groupthink, anti-American activism, and de-masculization? You’ll find plenty. Want an institution of real learning, free thought and free speech, and respect for the classics? You’ll find a few that seem better than the rest. NOTE: I have commented elsewhere that speaking of “higher ed” as a single entity with a single set of problems is untrue and unfair. There are in fact three, as I see it: STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math); SLASSH (sophistry: “liberal arts”, “social science”, and “humanities”), which might better be termed the “quotes” subjects, since none particularly resembles what they actually are); and PALME (professions: accounting, law, medicine and education). STEM remains a world of serious learning, and we continue to lead the world in it. SLASSH is a world of pure fakery, teaching little but the arts of Socrates’ despised sophists. PALME is a realm of uneven quality: rigorous where the world (and their professional associations) demand that they be, less so when they can get away with it. While the diseases afflicting higher ed are centered in the SLASSH schools, the serious STEM or PALME student is not immune. The SLASSH-and-burn PC police are running riot everywhere: in “general education” (SLASSH-indoctrination) course requirements, in the rape-culture” hysteria and resulting loss of due process for men, and in the general left-wing bullying and throttling of free speech. Caveat emptor! Let the buyer beware!