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Winter for Higher-Ed
How to Fix College

Just about everyone agrees that college is way too expensive. The hard part is figuring out what to do about it. Over at National Review, Victor Davis Hanson proposes ten areas for reform to make colleges more accountable and degrees more affordable. A number of his proposed reforms address problems we’ve spotlighted on this blog: administrative bloat, the pernicious effects of the tenure system, money wasted on unnecessary academic publications, and even the rise of university-administered “kangaroo courts” for students accused of certain types of misconduct. He also proposes some interesting ideas we haven’t devoted much attention to:

Since university costs have gone up over 7 percent annually on average for the last two decades, it is past time for transparency, especially given the infusion of state and federal subsidies. How strange that universities will publish statistical data on almost every facet of American life—from racial matters to the environment—but not provide the public with a detailed breakdown of their own expenditures to allow students and their parents to understand why their tuition is priced as it is. Students should have the choice of deciding whether they wish to attend a college that budgets for rock-climbing walls, an Assistant Dean of Internet Technology, or visits by a Michael Moore or John Edwards.

Some of the ideas seem more impactful than others; more transparent admissions would be nice, for example, but not exactly a game changer. Nevertheless Hanson aptly diagnoses many of the problems affecting academe and proposes some interesting solutions. Read the whole thing.

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  • qet

    Oh dear. “Impactful” not even a word by my lights or according to the Free Dictionary online dictionary site (which normally uses Webster’s and American heritage dictionaries). Please edit. Might I suggest: “Some of the ideas seem likely to have more impact than others.”?

    • TommyTwo

      I’d say it’s well down the road to wordification.


      • Kavanna

        Don’t detain an academic when he wants to word something.

      • rheddles

        Hopefully not.

        • TommyTwo

          Heh. (That was intentional, yes?)

          • rheddles

            Good to see someone got it.

  • Anthony

    “Two factors have so far shielded the American university from the sort of criticism that it so freely levels against almost every other institution in American life. (10 For decades a college education has been considered the key to an ascendant middle-class existence. (2) Until recently a college degree was not tantamount to life long debt.”

    The outlaw institution is thrust of Victor Davis Hanson’s article; on top of that, similar bullet points have been made before not just by AI but Bloomberg News, NY Times, Atlantic, et al. In spite of that, as both corporate entities and influential purveyors of dominant values can universities/colleges alter arrangements along proposed lines without trustee and corporate support and/or interest.

  • free_agent

    You write, “Students should have the choice of deciding whether they wish to attend a college that budgets for rock-climbing walls”.

    I’ve talked to people at my alma mater (which is a high-quality college facing a financial problem because too few affluent students go there), and seen writing on the subject, and the answer seems to be “students choose to attend a college that budgets for rock-climbing walls”. If you have spartan facilities, students won’t go there. Or at least, the affluent students you can turn a profit on won’t go there. It seems that only the most motivated students will choose academic quality over amenities when choosing a college.

    Ironically, my alma mater was widely praised when it produced a brochure in the late 1960s, “The Grinnell Experience”. It was the first admissions publication in the country that was aimed *at the prospective student* rather than students’ parents. It emphasized the niceness of “the Grinnell experience” rather than the parent-pleasing matters of educational excellence, etc.

    At heart, there is a conflict of desires between the student-customers and what society thinks college should be for. That isn’t going to make things easier.

    • Richard T

      This reminds me of something I saw not long ago in a prospectus for a high-quality high school, quoting one of its alumni saying “By comparison, college was a breeze.” It sounds as if young Americans think that, after they worked so hard just to get into a good college, they should be entitled to some fun, perhaps they’re already uncrowned members of the elite. Mightn’t it be better if they had their fun in high school and then got down to burnishing their eliteness?

      Given what we see on the TV on Saturdays, what does society think college should be for, anyway?

    • TommyTwo

      What they need is for a responsible adult in their lives to speak some sense into them.

      Hmm, I think I’ve identified the problem.

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