Some Modest Proposals For Higher Education Reform

As the subject of higher education funding comes up (mainly prompted by the Occupy Wall Street gits), I find myself thinking of ways to improve the situation. And I have a few notions I’d like to kick around — mainly aimed at keeping the young and foolish from saddling themselves with decades of debt. Most of them revolve around protecting themselves from themselves.


The first thought is this: no loans for students who haven’t declared a major after their first semester. You wanna take your time and “find yourself,” then do it on your own dime.


Next, all students will be presented with a chart that compares their projected earnings over 20 years with their planned degree, along with the projected total student loan debt. If they want to rack up a quarter of a million dollars in debt so they can get a Ph.D. in Womyn’s Studies with a minor in Far Eastern Art History, they better have a plan to pay that back.


Third, colleges will be informed that if their fees and tuition increase by, say, twice the inflation rate, they better not expect to get government guarantees for student loans. As so many have noted, the increased availability of government money for education has pretty much only increased the cost of college, as the schools have simply jacked up their charges to take advantage of the freer flow of money. This has mainly gone into administrative costs — very little trickles down to the students. I mean, how many Senior Associate Deans For Diversity do we need?


I’m noticing a trend here in regards to education. At the elementary and secondary levels, there almost seems to be an inverse relationship between the amount of money spent and the quality of the education. Going by the SATs and other standardized tests, the states that spend the most are among the worst, while those that spend far less get far more “bang for their buck.” Similarly, it seems the more we spend on college education, the more it all costs and the less we seem to get for it.


Maybe this is one of those counterintuitive situations that seem to crop up so much: perhaps if we spent less money on college education, and started paying far more attention to just where that money is going, we might actually get better results.


On the other hand, though, perhaps we should just let things keep going the way they are. After all, it’s only government money here, and the government has plenty. And if they need more, they can always print more…


(cue argument for why “Economics 101” should be a required course in all colleges, if not high schools)


Finally, we need a resurgence in trade schools, preferably at the expense of the liberal arts. All around the country well-paying jobs are going begging because there aren’t enough Americans who know how to do things, especially with their hands. How many sociologists does it take to replace a toilet? How many Gender Studies majors does it take to run a chem lab? The answer is “I dunno; we could use all of ’em, and it wouldn’t get done.” The expanse of liberal arts education has come at the expense of those “lesser” programs, as more and more people decide they’re too good to do such menial tasks — and then find out that the real world isn’t interested in paying them for “being so smart.”


Will this make it all better? Oh, hell no. Is it even guaranteed to work? You gotta be kidding. But it seems to be to be better than continuing the current craziness.



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