By Richard Vedder
Jeff Sandefer pointed out that tenured faculty draw big pay but low paid adjuncts and graduate students do the bulk of the teaching. Rep. Morrison of the Texas legislature outlined some sensible steps to cut costs (e.g., encouraging good high school students to take courses). And I pointed out the pernicious effects that accreditation might have on barriers to entry to teaching. I have just summarized a higher education panel at the annual policy conclave of the Texas Pubic Policy Foundation.
But then a fellow emblazoned with Ron Paul buttons got up and asked a question --a good one, in my judgment: Aren't most of the problems of higher education solvable simply by getting government out of our colleges and universities? He was saying "you (Morrison-Sandefer-Vedder) were talking about symptoms --the real disease is governmental involvement."
I think our libertarian questioner had a good point. Governments make massive third party payments that make customers and providers less sensitive to costs. The cool attitude of governments towards for profit institutions in some states has reduced competition and market-based efficient modes of service delivery. Massive research federal grants have had the impact of devaluing teaching. Etc. etc.
It is interesting that states with less government financial involvement in higher education (e.g., New Hampshire or Massachusetts) very often have higher proportions of college graduates than states with great governmental involvement (North Carolina). The question is: had governments not gotten involved in higher education, what would our colleges and universities have been like today? I am not altogether convinced that we would have inferior, fewer colleges or a less educated populace. And I am almost certain we would be spending a lot less of our resources on this sector of the economy.