By Richard Vedder
I started thinking seriously about higher education issues about a decade ago, and expressed my initial thoughts in a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece. A few years and several iterations on my initial thoughts later, I embarked on writing Going Broke By Degree for the American Enterprise Institute. Three years later, after serving on the Spellings Commission and starting the Center for College Affordability and Productivity (CCAP), my views on higher ed have continued to evolve.
Usually, the more you study something, the more moderate you become. The simple radical solutions prove to be impractical, infeasible, or not so simple as originally thought. My evolution, however, has been rather different --I have become more, not less, radicalized in my view that fundamental reform is needed in higher education. This viewed has evolved not because of some sort of ideological change of life, or a quasi-religious conversion of some sort. It has come from running regression models -- studying the evidence. The more evidence that I see that I believe is creditable and meaningful, the more I am convinced of the following:
* Too many students, not too few, are going to college;
* College and universities are extremely inefficient, and at the marginal public spending on them more likely lowers rather than raises economic growth;
* The federal financial aid programs have contributed to raising higher education costs, lowering efficiency, and increasing corruption within higher education --and done precious little good, sending few more kids to college than would have gone anyway (which, given the first point, is not all bad);
* Colleges and universities often violate an implicit contract with their donors in the way they allocate resources, very often paying scant attention to the needs of the undergraduate students who typically are their bread and butter;
*People need knowledge and skills more than ever, but alternative forms of providing those skills, such as vocational schools and on-the-job training are often superior and lower cost options.
*A greater percentage of entering college students should be attending community colleges, moving up to four year universities only if they succeed well at the community college level.
This is a blog, not a book, so I will stop here. Other things could be discussed, such as the fact that falling teaching loads and exploding salaries suggest the higher ed community on average is collecting "economic rents" --unnecessarily high payments --from their patrons. Stay tuned as CCAP enters its second year poised to raise a bigger fuss over the way our colleges and universities do business.