Richard Vedder is such a giant in education and economics that he was able to persuade 28 colleagues to write detailed pre-published comments about his new book RESTORING THE PROMISE which catalogues the failure of higher education in America. The Carnegie Commission on Education (year) and the books written by former Princeton President William Bowen and former Yale President Drew Bok, all addressed higher education but not with Vedder’s rapier honesty. Having myself read widely on the topic I will proceed to make the case briefly while strongly recommending his book to fully understand the ongoing failures of today’s colleges and the prescription to begin righting the wrongs.

American higher education has lost its way. Their costs continue to escalate while being unaccountable. There has been a documented decline in both the quality and quantity of the education transmitted. There is a growing disconnect between educational experience and life prospects. Obvious political agendas are compromising the pursuit of truth and intellectual freedom. Students are emerging from college with little knowledge of our history and the achievements of western society, which appears to be by design of the 90% liberal professors who control our campuses.

Growing incomes have made most products more affordable, but it now takes a larger portion of income for most Americans to pay for college than it did a generation ago. Little of college endowment money is used to reduce tuition costs. The main fault seems to lie, with government policies that fund financial assistance, becoming a money trap for graduates outside of focused fields such as engineering, technology, accounting or nursing which teach vocationally useful material

These easy loan programs artificially boost demand and exploit students. Although colleges are supposed to be in the information and knowledge business, they know little about the educational value added to students during their college years. That 40% of recent college graduates are underemployed, filling jobs traditionally done by high school graduates, certainly undermines the value of what we call a liberal education in humanities and literature.

Based on the growing ratio of administrative employees to faculty at most schools, where buildings are empty much of the year, while teaching loads are shrinking, and costs increasing, it is clear that colleges are run inefficiently with apparently little incentive to improve.

Political correctness has limited academic debate and increased conformity on campuses across the nation. Reasoned debate over alternative viewpoints is disappearing. At most universities between 25 and 40% of expenditures goes toward things not directly related to the academic mission, such as food service, medical clinics and collegiate athletics. Richard Vedder documents these details in his book.

As administrative staffs have soared in size and importance, the faculty has lost its influence in the management of the school and appear to be being bribed by lower course loads.

It would appear to be time for parents to ask why their children should go to college. For most parents today it really is too costly. Will students learn the critical knowledge for a successful future?

At all the most elite schools, endowments are growing, but so is tuition. That makes no sense. Nor does the ongoing scandal of parents bribing con men to get their kids into what they see as the better schools whose degrees can still be useless. This undoubtedly makes the bribes and now the prison sentences comically absurd.

Why do so many colleges have edifice complexes? Why do they need more buildings while existing ones remain underused. I will tell you why. to attract richer students whose parents may become major donors. The same reason big time college sports, which do nothing for the education of the average student, are their entirely to bring in big bucks to programs bearing no relationship to the education of the student body. The players are commonly unqualified and most do not graduate. Now the players want to be paid, fully ending any idea that they think an education is their reward.

Everyone reading this article has by now read about the problems with our college education system which too often ill prepares our youth for life while burying them in debt for years to come. In Richard Vedder’s outstanding book RESTORING THE PROMISE, he details many complex programs necessary to get us back on track. However, he also lists a number of simple and logical changes that are easily understood and accomplished. They include, reducing university bureaucracies, increasing faculty teaching loads, incentivizing better utilization of space, instituting three year degrees and year round instruction, ending discrimination against for-profit schools, reevaluating academic tenure, ending grade inflation, eliminating colleges of education, ending speech codes and other barriers to academic freedom, requiring a coherent core curriculum that incorporates civic and cultural literacy and ending affirmative actions and related diversity programs as they currently exist. It would be hard for most of us to argue against these common sense changes which would make our college systems more relevant, more productive and less expensive.


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  • Dr. Jay Lehr

    CFACT Senior Science Analyst Jay Lehr has authored more than 1,000 magazine and journal articles and 36 books. Jay’s new book A Hitchhikers Journey Through Climate Change written with Teri Ciccone is now available on Kindle and Amazon.