What factors are contributing to the higher education bubble?

This article from the Wall Street Journal was discussed at length by Dennis Prager on his radio show yesterday.


College costs have continued to explode despite 50 years of ostensibly benevolent government interventions, according to Mr. Vedder, and the president’s new plan could exacerbate the trend. By Mr. Vedder’s lights, the cost conundrum started with the Higher Education Act of 1965, a Great Society program that created federal scholarships and low-interest loans aimed at making college more accessible.

In 1964, federal student aid was a mere $231 million. By 1981, the feds were spending $7 billion on loans alone, an amount that doubled during the 1980s and nearly tripled in each of the following two decades, and is about $105 billion today. Taxpayers now stand behind nearly $1 trillion in student loans.

Meanwhile, grants have increased to $49 billion from $6.4 billion in 1981. By expanding eligibility and boosting the maximum Pell Grant by $500 to $5,350, the 2009 stimulus bill accelerated higher ed’s evolution into a middle-class entitlement. Fewer than 2% of Pell Grant recipients came from families making between $60,000 and $80,000 a year in 2007. Now roughly 18% do.

This growth in subsidies, Mr. Vedder argues, has fueled rising prices: “It gives every incentive and every opportunity for colleges to raise their fees.”

Many colleges, he notes, are using federal largess to finance Hilton-like dorms and Club Med amenities. Stanford offers more classes in yoga than Shakespeare. A warning to parents whose kids sign up for “Core Training”: The course isn’t a rigorous study of the classics, but rather involves rigorous exercise to strengthen the glutes and abs.

Or consider Princeton, which recently built a resplendent $136 million student residence with leaded glass windows and a cavernous oak dining hall (paid for in part with a $30 million tax-deductible donation by Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman). The dorm’s cost approached $300,000 per bed.

[…]Some college officials are also compensated more handsomely than CEOs. Since 2000, New York University has provided $90 million in loans, many of them zero-interest and forgivable, to administrators and faculty to buy houses and summer homes on Fire Island and the Hamptons.

Former Ohio State President Gordon Gee (who resigned in June after making defamatory remarks about Catholics) earned nearly $2 million in compensation last year while living in a 9,630 square-foot Tudor mansion on a 1.3-acre estate. The Columbus Camelot includes $673,000 in art decor and a $532 shower curtain in a guest bathroom. Ohio State also paid roughly $23,000 per month for Mr. Gee’s soirees and half a million for him to travel the country on a private jet.

[…]Colleges have also used the gusher of taxpayer dollars to hire more administrators to manage their bloated bureaucracies and proliferating multicultural programs. The University of California system employs 2,358 administrative staff in just its president’s office.

“Every college today practically has a secretary of state, a vice provost for international studies, a zillion public relations specialists,” Mr. Vedder says. “My university has a sustainability coordinator whose main message, as far as I can tell, is to go out and tell people to buy food grown locally. . . . Why? What’s bad about tomatoes from Pennsylvania as opposed to Ohio?”

[…]Today, only about 7% of recent college grads come from the bottom-income quartile compared with 12% in 1970 when federal aid was scarce. All the government subsidies intended to make college more accessible haven’t done much for this population, says Mr. Vedder. They also haven’t much improved student outcomes or graduation rates, which are around 55% at most universities (over six years).

[…]”Thirty-percent of the adult population has college degrees,” he notes. “The Department of Labor tells us that only 20% or so of jobs require college degrees. We have 115,520 janitors in the United States with bachelor’s degrees or more. Why are we encouraging more kids to go to college?”

Mr. Vedder sees similarities between the government’s higher education and housing policies, which created a bubble and precipitated the last financial crisis. “In housing, we had artificially low interest rates. The government encouraged people with low qualifications to buy a house. Today, we have low interest rates on student loans. The government is encouraging kids to go to school who are unqualified just as it encouraged people to buy a home who are unqualified.”

The higher-ed bubble, he says, is “already in the process of bursting,” which is reflected by all of the “unemployed or underemployed college graduates with big debts.” The average student loan debt is $26,000, but many graduates, especially those with professional degrees, have six-figure balances.

Mr. Obama wants to help more students discharge their debts by capping their monthly payments at 10% of their discretionary income and forgiving their outstanding balances after 20 years. Grads who take jobs in government or at nonprofits already can discharge their debt after a decade.

“Somehow working for the private sector is bad and working for the public sector is good? I don’t see on what basis one would make that conclusion,” Mr. Vedder says. “If I had to make some judgment, I would do just the opposite.”

He adds that the president’s approach “creates a moral hazard problem. What it signals to current and future loan borrowers is that I don’t have to take these repayment of loans very seriously. . . . I don’t have to worry too much about getting a high-paying job.” It encourages “sociology and anthropology majors compared with math and engineering majors.”

The most trouble thing for me is that we are taxing money away from current earners, and borrowing money from future earners, in order to subsidize many, many degrees that will never pay back the initial investment we are making to send them to college. The more that government jumps in to pay people to do useless degrees and then doesn’t get the money back, the more students are going choose useless degrees. Other countries like New Zealand and Canada have major problems right now because these loans are not being paid back. That’s what happens when government takes over student loan administration – they aren’t as concerned about being paid back.

What’s also troubling to me is that people who choose not to go to college but instead to go to trade school or start their own businesses are subsidizing the worthless degrees that so many people choose to pursue today. Why would the government waste taxpayer money on these worthless degrees? Well, because college is four years of liberal indoctrination. Students are so stupid that they will actually accept the propaganda pushed by professors as if it were true, even though these professors often have no experience in the private sector themselves. And these students will have the illusion of being educated as they vote for the secular left come election time. They don’t even realize that they are voting to harm their prospective employers and increase the national debt which they will have to pay back. When I try to talk to them about it, they seem to fall back on name-calling instead of making any kind of factual case. This seems to be the result of college as well. They’ve learned to demonize their opponents rather than debate them with evidence.

5 thoughts on “What factors are contributing to the higher education bubble?”

  1. You are no doubt correct about the real purpose of this—indoctrination, not education (to say nothing of teaching critical thinking).

    Have you read Bloom’s “Closing Of The American Mind”? Finished it a few weeks ago; it’s not completely related to this, but it is about what we might term the corruption of the higher education system. The going can be a smidgen thick at times, but it’s a superb read, even all these years later.

    1. Bloom’s book does a good job of explaining how universities enforce postmodernism and moral relativism. There is no truth, nothing is right or wrong. That’s what professors believe, by and large.

  2. This is all very depressing. I didn’t go to college because at the time, I had no idea what to study and I did not wish to waste my dear parents’ hard earned money! (If they’d even been able to pay for it. I would’ve gotten myself into debt as well.)

    In a way I’m glad. I got saved at 18 and if I’d gone to college immediately, who knows if I would’ve been able to withstand the onslaught of Leftist teaching that I’m sure I would’ve been subjected to.

    But now I’m in my 40s, I’ve been out work for several years, and even the most basic office jobs require a college degree – in ANYTHING, even if it has nothing to do with the job.

    I love to study and I wish I could actually go to study something, somewhere. But 1) I have zero money and 2) with the Leftism and low standard of teaching we so often hear about, it would be a waste even if I someone handed me a 4-year scholarship.

    And yet in today’s society, I am nothing without a degree.

    Ugh! It’s such a Catch-22!

    1. Dennis Prager was saying today that parents should not let their kids go to a normal university straight out of high school without experiencing real life for a year first. I went straight out of high school, but I had been working for 3 years before, and I went into computer science – much safer.

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