By Richard Vedder
The title of this blog is the title of a book by Marc Scheer. It is a guide written for parents and students preparing for college. If you think I am a little harsh on colleges, you haven't seen anything. Scheer's critique would drive most of my Establishment friends up the wall, attacked for being a polemical screed that fails to capture all that is good and noble in higher education. To be sure, Dr. Scheer uncovers virtually every scam and tactic used by colleges to maximize their income and minimize their obligations to their customers, and certainly scholarly balance is not present in his commentary. But it is still an interesting little book, and is pretty well documented (over 800 footnotes).
Scheer believes colleges deceive their customers --big time, and in dozens of different ways. They use financial aid as a device to maximize income from the customers rather than help the needy, as we are told. They take kickbacks from student loan providers to whom they steer students to borrow from --often on poor terms. Students think they are going to school for four years when in reality it is more likely to be longer --five years or even more. They often lie to donors, using money for different purposes for which gifts were intended. They force students to pay extra fees for things the students don't want, like activity fees to use recreational facilities or attend athletic events. They force the students to eat crummy dorm food that is overpriced and non-nutritional. They charge far more for housing than market conditions warrant, using their monopoly power to exploit students. They use low paid graduate students, many who speak English poorly, to teach, while tenured faculty do not find undergraduate students worthy of their time and attention. They overstate the alleged financial gains from a college education --big time. Scheer points out many great American successes never finished college, including in the computer business alone Bill Gates, Michael Dell, and Steve Jobs. Etc. etc.
I do think Scheer overdoes things a bit, occasionally exaggerating and implicitly assuming that virtually every college does nearly all the outrageous things outlined in the book, when in reality most of them do only some of them occasionally. He fails to point out very often that there are a lot of good and decent people in the higher education business who truly want to help people maximize their intellectual or economic potential. Nonetheless, I think he is right to call attention to the fact that colleges are not always the saintly institutions interested in student welfare that they would like to have you believe.
In any case, Scheer's book is available from the Common Courage Press, and is a lively, if somewhat inflammatory read --and, unfortunately, more right than wrong.