By Richard Vedder
Earlier, I asked whether this was "Obama's Nation" or whether his policies were an "Obamination." After listening to last night's ersatz State of the Union address, there is no question in my mind that it is the latter. It was the single most frightening speech I recall having heard from an American politician over more than a half of century of listening to such speeches. Given my hypertension, I had to take it in small doses, but I would predict that on February 24, 2010, the economy will be in no better shape than now (unemployment above 7.5 percent, a Dow that is low), interest rates and inflation will be on the rise, and Obama will be blaming the persistent problems on greedy capitalists rather than himself. Obama is arguably our first purely socialist president, a person who has utter contempt for free enterprise. I also sense a streak of authoritarianism in him, and would not surprised to see an attempt to consolidate political power by unethical and possibly illegal means, by doing such things as trying to silence Rush Limbaugh and doing away with elections for union representation. I, of course, may be wrong. And Congress still has a role to play, although seeing the likes of Nancy Pelosi presiding last night did not instill much confidence.
But let us talk about higher education. I issued a blistering comment to the Associated Press, which soon will be in print around the country, ending any remote chances I had for a White House invitation for the next four years -- no big deal. Here is what is wrong with the announced higher education policy:
1) The notion that every child should have some postsecondary education is completely unrealistic and, well, dumb. We have thousands of disabled kids who have trouble telling time, and who are warehoused in schools because we don't know what else to do with them. They surely cannot complete a meaningful high school diploma which has integrity, much less any college. Hundreds of thousands drop out of high school annually for a multitude of reasons --family dysfunctions, drugs, abysmal quality schools, low cognitive abilities, etc. They do not belong in postsecondary schools. I would argue that we already have too many kids pursuing degrees for the sake of degrees. There is a need for more vocational training of many of our less academically successful youth, but that is not what the President seems to be calling for in his remarks to date.
2) The notion we will be number one in the percent of young adults with bachelor's degrees or more by 2020 does not accord with reality, particularly given our pathetically bad government schools that provide most of the secondary education in this nation. It is nearly mathematically impossible for us to pass Norway, for example, unless the Norwegians decide to embrace American progressive education with a vengeance overnight, which is highly unlikely.
3) Huge tax credits for Americans going to college in the stimulus bill add to the problem of rising tuition costs. My sidekick Andrew Gillen has developed the theory and facts to support that statement in an absolutely brilliant paper that CCAP is going to release very shortly. The Pell Grant increase, another part of the bill, actually makes more sense on both theoretical grounds and from the standpoint of American ideals of equal opportunity. The vast expansion of government student loans for middle class Americans will clearly raise costs, as colleges move to capture the funds.
4) Infrastructure help for colleges flowing from the stimulus plan is suspect given the low utilization rates of existing physical plant.
5) There are no proposals so far to demand accountability of colleges, to require them to measure outcomes, etc. There is no effort to change the way higher education services are delivered, a prerequisite to true positive change in American higher education. Indeed, there doesn't even seem to be anyone in charge of higher education on Maryland Avenue (which may or may not be bad).
My blood pressure is rising, so I better stop. I have made my point.