By Richard Vedder
I have been trashing universities a lot lately, not because I hate them, but because I love them. They serve useful functions, and I think the preservation and strengthening of the intellectual basis for Western civilization is a pretty important job.
Yet amidst all the criticism, there are some schools that do very good things, as Dan Golden points out in his great book The Price of Admission. I want to mention a couple that Dan points out, and add a third of my own.
Berea College and Cooper Union could not be more different in many respects. One is in rural Kentucky, and limits its enrollment largely to students from nearby Appalachian states. My wife Karen, a guidance counselor extraordinaire, has long been a strong advocate of sending poor Appalachian kids to Berea, and I have seen the fine results. By contrast, Cooper Union is a New York City institution that draws heavily from America's leading urban center. Both schools have one important thing in common: they are free. There are no tuition fees. Both also do not let legacy or family wealth considerations impact admission --Berea goes so far as to forbid rich kids from coming, and makes every kid work at least ten hours a week doing something for the college. Both are single minded in their goal: to provide high quality instruction to deserving kids of all types of backgrounds. Both are marvelous examples of using higher education to improve equality of condition in our nation, something our nation's leading public universities are ignoring, as my last blog and the new Gerald and Haycock Education Trust study points out.
A third school that Dan Golden does not mention is Hillsdale College. Hillsdale will take money from students and their parents, and indeed needs those funds to survive, since it does not take a penny of federal money, nor do any of its students (no student loans). Why? Hillsdale philosophically is opposed to governmental involvement in what it does, and is willing to endure some financial sacrifice in order to maintain that principle.
Sometime the nice guys don't finish last, as someone, I think Leo Durocher, once claimed. By swimming against the stream, all three institutions have prospered. Berea has a huge endowment, mostly provided by non-Berea connected folks who admire the school and its mission. Cooper Union lived for years on income from valuable real estate investments, and now is appealing for outside funds. But it still avoids tuition, and it still is a first rate school. Hillsdale has a growing reputation as a good liberal arts college, and its endowment has grown more than most schools of its size and reputation, appealing to persons who put a strong value on individual liberty.