Too much public money is going to subsidize higher education, argues Richard Vedder, an Ohio University economics professor and director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, in Forbes.
Massive investment in higher education hasn’t produced the promised social benefits, such as lower crime rates and increased voting, Vedder writes. Income inequality has grown in the past 40 years, right along with large subsidies to higher education.
Moreover, other performance indicators are not good. Over 40 percent of new entrants into four-year degree programs do not graduate within six years. . . . The Labor Department tells us that there are now 17.4 million Americans with bachelor degrees or more doing work historically done by those without college training –the number of college graduates who are waiters has tripled since 1992, for example.
Capable students benefit from a college education, Vedder writes. But benefits diminish for students who are less motivated, less disciplined and less intelligent.
To accommodate them, colleges must either dumb down their curriculum (hurting the more able students), or fail to graduate many of the incremental students (they have done both, in my judgment).
Taxpayers will be unable and unwilling to subsidize an inefficient higher education system so heavily, Vedder predicts.
As we increasingly recognize that higher education is largely a private good primarily conferring benefits on its users, we will back off our huge governmental financial commitment to colleges and universities, most of which are organized on a costly medieval model primarily using instructional methods dating back to when Socrates taught the youth of Athens.
“Public disinvestment is a good move, and higher education will be forced to adjust to it,” Vedder concludes.
President Obama is pushing higher education as the path to economic strength, calling for the U.S. to regain world leadership in college-educated workers by 2020. I think most people continue to see higher education as a public good. But, in tough times, taxpayers will be dubious about subsidizing colleges with low completion rates.