Trolling the President About Tuition: Again, Politico Misses the Point! Part I

On December 28, Politico’s Benjamin Wermund published an article blaming President Trump for not reducing the cost of college tuition. As is typical of left-leaning sites like Politico no consideration appears to be allowed for the fact that the President has only been in the office for less than a year and college tuition rates have been climbing for years. All those years have been largely coinciding with the rise in federal subsidies – in the form of student loans and grants – that eliminate any incentive for colleges and universities to reduce the cost of attending their vaunted institutions.

Truthfully, there is little to nothing the President can do on his own to reduce the cost of college. The only meaningful measure the federal government could take is to pass legislation that would phase out student loans and grants over a five-year period because that is the root of this problem.

Like other subsidies conjured by the federal government to aid special interest industries – like Food (farm subsidies), Housing (Section 8 and FHA loans), Energy (does Solyndra right a bell), Labor (minimum wage laws), to name a few – student loans may be well-meaning, but are misdirected. Even colleges with enormous endowments are permitted to slurp up the dollars at the public trough of student aid. As we speak, there are efforts afoot in the hapless halls of Congress to make student aid access “easier”. The result will likely be more of the same. More debt and higher tuition. Perhaps some of those elite institutions with multi-billion-dollar endowments should be required to spend some of it on student grants before they would be eligible to enroll students on government loans and grants?

As I said, there is no incentive for colleges to economize when the student aid system provides virtually unlimited funding with which to fund their excesses. A few examples:

  • Many of the leading colleges and universities are continually funding facility expansions that allow them to take in more and more students while the cost is funded by the debt students incur to attend. Much of the campus expansions are far from economical to operate or maintain. Dormitories used to be simple or truly spartan. After all, they are intended to provide temporary housing for students who will (or should) spend a majority of their time attending classes or studying. The rest is spent outside the dorm room or sleeping, anyway.
  • Read any of the many similar universities’ budget documents and you will often find a steady increase in the number of relatively useless course offerings that make you scratch your head in wonder at how many of these courses contribute to the student paying off their massive student loans let alone provide a career that compensates them adequately to make those payments. For years, the University of Miami (FL) was famous for offering a course entitled “Advanced Basket-weaving”. Back in the 60s and 70s this was considered a laughable aberration. Today, it is far from a rarity. Such courses, and those relating to special ethnic or gender studies are largely offered to satisfy the left-wing desire to “accommodate” all these different special interests in a way that prevents criticism or offers an easy way to move lower-achieving students to graduation – political correctness run amok.
  • One of the mantras of professional academia is “publish or perish.” Faculty members are often pressured to produce and publish original research and scholarly papers primarily because the more they publish, the more prestige they create for their employers and the higher their salaries can climb. Unfortunately, much of their time at work is spent on this research rather than classroom teaching. In addition, the more they produce and publish, the more likely they are to have graduate student assistants and assistant professors who do the grunt work of teaching, grading papers, and handling the day-to-day work while the professors coast to tenure, retirement or the speakers’ circuit. Reducing some of this pressure along with a corresponding reduction in the number of student assistants and assistant professors could go a long way to reducing overhead and along with it, the overall tuition, fees, and expenses of attending. Government-funded research is another inflator that could use a separate article to analyze.
  • Elaborate facilities are often proudly extolled by the universities as helpful to students but in many cases, the nature of the buildings makes them minimally beneficial to student learning. As with on-campus housing, the architecture of the buildings does little to improve the learning experience. They are, however, far more expensive to design and build with the bill falling on the backs of their students.

What would happen if the colleges and universities were placed in the position of marketing themselves on their merits alone? What would happen if the parents of prospective students were to take a closer look at how the institutions spend their money and how much of it benefits their students’ education and how much of it benefits the university at the expense of its students?

Michelle Asha Cooper, president of the Institute for Higher Education Policy, is quoted by Politico. It stands out in pointing toward the underlying philosophy that the left always trots out:

“It’s very important we do not create policies that will further marginalize students
of color and low-income students.”

Perhaps, if the costs of higher education were reduced through competition and better management with an eye toward minimizing cost to the student, that dream of free or affordable college could be implemented to allow more low-income students to attend at minimal expense without even having to play the race card in the process.

The bottom line suggests that the problem, like so many others, is more a creation of misdirected attempts by government to make college “affordable.” To the contrary, government is contributing considerably to the cost of college and a continuation of the disaster that student loans and grants have created by giving educational institutions the excuse they have needed to continue the kind of spending that inflates the cost of a college education.

The President does address the myth that every student completing high-school is best served by college attendance – a myth promulgated by academia – likely as a means of increasing demand in the marketplace. What would happen if the demand for seats in college classrooms were to be reduced? Competition is a good thing…even for education.

I would be remiss if I failed to point out a glaring problem with this whole subject. The federal government has no constitutional authority to become in any way involved in the field of education. It just is not in the document…anywhere.

My suggestion that these harmful programs be discontinued over a five-year period is aimed at not disrupting anyone’s plans if currently enrolled in college. That would be unfair.  Just about as unfair as Politico’s attempt to hang this problem around the neck of our President.   After all, colleges will need some time to trim the fat.

Tom Stark

Tom Stark’s career began with Air Force service, including a year in Thailand and Vietnam, and progressed through a variety of manufacturing and service positions to Manager of Security, Safety, and Transportation for the Orange County (FL) Convention Center. He graduated from Barry University in 1994 and soon after embarked on a second career building custom furniture as an entrepreneur for the last 20 years. He unsuccessfully ran as a Tea Party candidate in the 2010 Congressional race (WV-01). Tom currently writes and advocates for smaller more prudent and less intrusive government, strengthening families and protecting life while building free market principles that make America stronger. He is now 70, retired, and residing with his wife in Weston, West Virginia.

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