College Becoming Unaffordable For Most Americans

College Becoming Unaffordable For Most Americans


Apparently wage stagnation matters…a lot.

Not just because middle class families are swimming debt, but we’re apparently on a collision course with having a work force that doesn’t represent the best and brightest in the world.

From NY Times:

The rising cost of college — even before the recession — threatens to put higher education out of reach for most Americans, according to the biennial report from the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education.

Over all, the report found, published college tuition and fees increased 439 percent from 1982 to 2007, adjusted for inflation, while median family income rose 147 percent. Student borrowing has more than doubled in the last decade, and students from lower-income families, on average, get smaller grants from the colleges they attend than students from more affluent families.

“If we go on this way for another 25 years, we won’t have an affordable system of higher education,” said Patrick M. Callan, president of the center, a nonpartisan organization that promotes access to higher education.

“When we come out of the recession,” Mr. Callan added, “we’re really going to be in jeopardy, because the educational gap between our work force and the rest of the world will make it very hard to be competitive. Already, we’re one of the few countries where 25- to 34-year-olds are less educated than older workers.”

So what to do?

We could significantly increase education subsidization, but no doubt conservatives would cry foul at the additional spending. But we all know that a strong nation starts with education, and if getting a solid foundation becomes nearly impossible without going hopelessly into debt, the American dream will start disenegrating a lot quicker than it is presently.

Honestly, I think we’re looking at a serious realignment of national priorities in the next 20 years and one that most people on the right side of the aisle won’t like very much: slowly drawing down defense spending and investing in the American people. Let’s face it, the defense budget is a big pot of honey that never gets touched, but it’s the most obvious choice to draw out of. Or, at the very least, stop increasing the budget year after year and make the military tighten their belts just like everybody else.

After all, folks like McCain characterize any infrastructure project as “pork”, but they have no catch phrases for defense projects. And many of those give us no discernible gain. You know, sort of like the war in Iraq…nearly a trillion dollars spent when all is said and done and no demonstrable benefit from it.

At the very least, by upping education spending, we know that we’ll collectively get smarter and be more competitive as a result.

What do you think?

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  • Doug Mataconis

    Has anyone paused for a moment to think why it is that the cost of college education has increased faster than pretty much everything else ?

  • BBQ

    I know that colleges feel they need have more up to date dorms and facilities. Those aren’t cheap, hell I graduated six years ago and the difference between what I had and now is insane. Some of the new dorms are more luxurious than anything I could afford downtown. Add the messed up priorities of your football coach making big dough, SOTA stadiums, workout facilities, etc.

    What happened to just teaching kids and giving them knowledge for the future.

  • Jimmy the Dhimmi

    I suspect I’m thinking what Doug is thinking. Justin, post a figure that charts the total amount of college enrollment over the same period of time.

  • Alan Stewart Carl

    One solution I’ve read about is to require colleges to spend at least 5% of their endowment every year — the same requirement placed on non-profits with endowments. Upper-end schools charge huge tuition fees but often have huge endowments and could very easily fund the education of every single student without putting a dent in their endowment. Of course, I have no link from this. But it’s worth considering.

    Also, defense money doesn’t evaporate. It flows back into the economy in soldier wages, defense contracts and the like. It’s an ongoing government stimulus keeping all sorts of people employed. You can argue we’re spending too much (or giving too much to foreign nations/companies), but there are economic consequences to buying fewer humvees.

  • FuzzyFace

    Isn’t it simple economics? As long as the government keeps handing out tuition subsidies, tuition is going to keep on going up. And universities increasingly devote more and more professorial time to research rather than teaching. I remember one statistic that years ago, profs were expected to spend 12 hours/week teaching, and now its only 6 hours/week. If so, that is itself a doubling of manpower needed for the same educational output.

    And because of the publish-or-perish value system, profs have to specialize in increasingly obscure corners of their field, far from the demands of the courses they are expected to teach. That makes the teaching itself harder and often less effective.

  • Jimmy the Dhimmi

    And many of those give us no discernible gain. You know, sort of like the war in Iraq…nearly a trillion dollars spent when all is said and done and no demonstrable benefit from it.

    There are economic consequences to leaving tyrannical, terrorist supporting regimes in power as well. Project outward 20 years from 2003, and I’ll bet that America actually saves money by going into Iraq.

    1)Think about how we would still have had a huge military presence in the gulf which we would have had to maintain anyway in order to enforce sanctions, embargos and no fly zones indefinitely. Now that Iraq has been won, we will be able to reduce forces in surrounding areas like Kuwait and Qatar, which we would not have been able to had Saddam and his sons stayed in power. We dismantled the massive Tawfik airbase in Saudi Arabia because Saddam was removed.

    2)Iraq is one of the only countries in the world that is actually growing economically, at a very robust pace. They will be a producer nation, rather than a drain on the global economy (or a humanitarian disaster) going forward. America will profit economically from that as well.

    3)We have also reduced the threat of terrorism by eliminating a client state in the heart of the Muslim world and replaced it with one that persecutes terrorists instead. Think about what another war between Iran and Iraq would do to the global economy, or an attack on Israel coming from Iraq, or an inevitable regime change and a more entrenched, techologically advanced insurgency in a future world with an even greater threat of wmd. We have reduced that chance by the successful regime change that has now taken place.

  • Justin Gardner

    @Doug & @Jimmy – According to these numbers, enrollment has only increased by 45% between 1980 (12.1 million) and 2005 (17.5 million). So the idea that costs would increase ten fold over the rate of enrollment is a bit nuts.

    One solution I’ve read about is to require colleges to spend at least 5% of their endowment every year — the same requirement placed on non-profits with endowments.

    Like UT-Austin? They’re sitting on billions in their endowment because of oil money. That’s probably why going to school there is so cheap if you’re a resident.

    Also, agreed that money flows back in, but siphoning off some of that would create even more jobs if it was pumped back into education. Think what diverting funds for a couple experimental weapon systems to education could do. Spending on education is incredibly tiny when compared to defense spending so a little would go a long way not only for our schools, but also for our students.

  • John Burke

    Actually, I think increased enrollment can account for a great deal of the increase above the rate of inflation. With rising pressure to go to some sort of college, a much larger cohort of high school graduates wants to go to college than the number who make it. People are turned down for admission outright; they are admitted but can’t finance it without grants and scholarships; etc. So colleges find they can raise tuition a lot and still have two or three or five time as many applicants as spots. The most prestigious colleges are said to maintain high tuition deliberately so as not to appear to cheapen their wares!

    Over the past 25 or 30 years, we’ve seen colleges (and graduate and professional schools) that were once “easy” to get into become much more competitive. As they have, they’ve jacked up tuition, increased capital budgets, and beefed up salaries and benefits to attract and retain the best possible staffs – in order to succeed in the next-higher level of competition.

    Putting money into sports, student facilities and all sorts of frills is another big expense – but again, it’s one designed to meet or best the competition in a growth industry.

    Take away some of the applicants and I’ll bet tuition would drop. Of course, that’s not likely to happen and we don’t want it to happen. Higher ed does need more federal support, but we should not get carried away. In part, this is an issue because in this country, we want to provide a place for every student who seeks one. In Europe, in contrast, universities are state-run and free but far fewer people get in and the facilities are nothing to brag about.

  • Rich Horton

    So what to do?

    #1. Slash university administrations by 50%. (We could easily afford to lose 80% of them…I’m being nice.) The problem with trying to federalize this issue is we will wind up with more useless administrators. These people are not part of the solution, they are largely the problem.

    #2. Get rid of all the stupid specialty officers. At many universities (including the one I work at) we hire full time staff to make us “green” and to “encourage sustainability.” Is that really worth putting a tuition burden on students? Heck no. Get RID OF THEM! There are countless other examples of wasted funds which have nothing to do with the quality of education.

    #3. Slash IT budgets by at least 30%. These budget lines are becoming the 800 lb gorilla no one wants to acknowledge. I’m not talking about starving tech heavy disciplines, but the general IT services. Find me a university prof who thinks the IT departments are doing a first rate job and that will make the first one I’ve ever heard of.

  • Dennis Sanders

    Justin, while I would agree that the cost of college is rather high, I don’t see anything non partisan about your solution. In fact, it’s pretty standard issue liberal: education good, defense bad.

    If I’m not mistaken, the defense budget was cut during the Clinton years, so it’s not like defense hasn’t had it share of cuts. After the end of the Cold War, many bases around the nation were closed, again saving money. I’m willing to look into the defense budget and how we can have a good military in light of today’s threats, but I think you rush to quickly to seeing the defense budget as the fat pig.

    Second, you say we need to invest in Americans again. So if we spend more money on grants, as well as fixing the nation’s infastructure and reforming the nation’s healthcare system, give everyone that middle class tax cut and other things, it will have to paid for somehow. Again, I am not someone that is opposed to taxes, but I have this bad feeling that we are going to raise taxes beyond the Clinton era to pay for everything on a wish list.

    If we are going to truly think “postpartisan” which at times I think is BS, then we have to find ways to govern beyond old nostroms of “no new taxes” or “soak the rich.”

  • Justin Gardner

    Now hold on Dennis…just because I’m for taking money from defense and putting it into education does not make mine a partisan stance. However, why not debate on whether or not the idea seems logical or not? To me, that’s what postpartisan means: putting ideology aside and coming up with common sense solutions. Some of those ideas will come from the left and some will come from the right.

    Also, I’m just as concerned as anybody else about the defense of this country, but I’m also not afraid to ask why those who identify as fiscal conservatives will open up the bank doors and let the defense contractors have nearly any amount they want for research and development of weaponry that is hardly ever used.

    I mean, do we really need tiny electronic bee drones to fly around and conduct surveillance? How about slippery goo that you shoot on the ground that nobody can stand up on? Or cannons that shoot pain rays at people? And those are just the silly ones. Then we can talk about about failed, massively expensive programs like the A-12 avenger, which was said to have eaten up nearly 70% of the Navy’s aircraft budget during a 3 year time period. And then there’s the more recent story of the FIA surveillance satellite program that cost $10B and went nowhere.

    It’s time for defense hawks to admit that the Pentagon is littered with expensive failures, and the American taxpayer has sat idly by and foot the bill while our infrastructure crumbles and a college education is becoming harder and harder to achieve.

    Listen, we’re going to deficit spend regardless of what we do with the education budget, but one easy way we could ease the burden is moving money out of the defense budget and into some of these other areas. And I think it’s a pretty easy argument to make that our long term national security needs will benefit just as much from investing in education and green technology as we would exotic new weapons systems that can simply kill people faster and more anonymously.

  • TerenceC

    It’s about time. When 51 cents of every dollar collected in taxes flows through the DoD either directly or through subsidiaries (Dept of Energy, Dept of the Treasury) then we truly are in trouble. It needs to be cut, and cut big. Anyone who has ever spent time on Active Duty knows that there is no greater waster in the Federal Gov’t than the DoD. And that’s only the half of it. There is another world associated with the DoD made up of military retirees, lobbyists, and companies that only do business with these retirees and lobbyists – all paid for with your tax dollars. There was a time when the DoD acted as an investment vehicle to bring technical innovation to our markets through research institutions, universities, and private sources acting to “seed” new technology with tax payer dollars. The internet, numerous discoveries from the space program to name a few items. They don’t do this with the same level of transparency anymore. It’s all granted to private enterprise through shadow contracts, unregulated organizations, and benevolent relationships before it trickles into the public sector. In my opinion, rising college costs appear to have an inverse relationship with the shift in DoD dolars moving from public investments to the new “secret” form of investment. It strikes me as very strange that as tax money moved from public vehicles to private vehicles over the last ~30 years college costs have quadrupled for the average American family. There may be nothing to this observation, but the coincidence is remarkable.

  • Doug Mataconis

    do we really need tiny electronic bee drones to fly around and conduct surveillance?

    Frankly, I’d say yes. As we’ve learned over the last eight year or more, good intelligence is crucial, and great intelligence can make it possible to pinpoint attacks on the bad guys and reduce collateral damage.

    How about slippery goo that you shoot on the ground that nobody can stand up on? Or cannons that shoot pain rays at people? And those are just the silly ones.

    These are experiments in non-lethal methods of crowd control, which is probably something we need to look into considering that urban warfare seems to be the future.

    I’m not saying that every Pentagon program is beyond criticism, but I sometimes get rather annoyed by suggestions that we can just “cut defense” and solve problems elsewhere

  • J. Harden

    Everyone is a defense expert. Those systems that go unused, like say nuclear weapons (2 small exceptions), also kept us from getting nuked. Just having those weapons systems and capabilities on hand has an effect on foreign policy and relations. I’m always a bit flabbergasted by some peoples willingness to call the people and technology that have protected the country — useless (or of “no discernable gain”) — while walking around safely in freedom. But lets get more specific: Which defense programs would you cut, Justin?

    As far as higher education, the inflation is due in large part to the grotesque amount of subsidization that it already receives. If we are to spend more money on high education it should go toward hard sciences/mathmatics/computer science departments/majors and not a single cent should go to these moronic liberal arts departments that do nothing but subsidize the lifestyle of TOTALLY USELESS charlatan leftwing professoriat.

    Which is more useless — experimental defense system or Ward Churchill? Not even a contest.

  • Justin Gardner

    I never said that all unused weapons systems are useless. But do I think we should take a look at everything and try to determine where we can cut the fat? Absolutely. DoD programs should not be the sacred cows just because they’re supposed to help defend our country.

    And I find it particularly frustrating to hear all of you libertarians dressing me down for suggesting as much…especially when you guys would be the first to bash any “pork” projects as nonessential.

  • ExiledIndependent

    I think much of the reaction comes from the immediate suggestion that they way to fix the problem is to cut defense spending. There are multiple dynamics involved. The first thing to do is to conduct some root cause analysis (which the government seems incapable of doing, ever) as to the reasons (multiple reasons) why tuition costs have exploded. Once we have a clear, comprehensive understanding of those reasons, we can decide if in fact more money is needed in higher education. I won’t say “public education,” because if we go there then I’m taking the express train to Rant City (check out the percent of education tax dollars that actually make it to schools. Dismantle the DOE, anyone?). Then, we take a look at all government agencies for ways that efficiencies can be gained. What programs are critical, which are good to have, and which are frivolous. I mean, do we really need the IRS any more?

    In terms of defense, there has to be a clear go-forward defense strategy. Research and development is critical, and any time you research there are going to be failed projects. We have to be prepared for small urban threats as well as nuclear-armed threats from other world powers. That’s expensive if we don’t want to become Switzerland. Does the DOD waste money? Yep. So does every government agency. Governments are traditionally poor project managers (D.C.’s new visitor center, for example), so there are multiple sources, IF more money is the answer. I think limiting your solution to the DoD is what triggered the blog aggro.

  • George Mauer

    Some points:
    1) Higher education is a national security issue. If we don’t have the expertise here we will have to import personnel and knowledge. We are going to be shut out of certain high tech industries and … oh just google “The Gathering Storm”.

    2) A college education is absurdly expensive. I had a half-tuition scholarship AND I got a stipend was actually being paid (as in I had zero expenditures) for grad school AND I finished undergrad in 3.5 years. So I did everything right – better than most people possibly could do – and when I graduated in 2006 I was still $75,000 in debt.

    Some of the older people commenting seem to not get the immensity of the expense. That is insane. As a software developer, I have far higher earning potential than the average college grad too. Yet I still must delay starting a family, purchasing a house, and living where I want to live (salaries in New Orleans are too low, I will probably have to move soon) until I’m well into my 30s. I look around at my friends who have graduated without similar debt and it is 100% that they come from families with deep enough pockets to pay for college in full. What does that say about the system?

    I’ve got no solutions but many of the commentators seem to be underestimating how bad the problem has really gotten.

    Oh and 3) Rich, regarding slashing IT budgets. I don’t know how much of a solution that really is. IT infrastructure is extremely important, I’m sure you don’t disagree with that. However, what you claim to be lack of quality I would wager is a result of a) unrealistic expectations and b) substandard employees. Regarding the latter there just isn’t enough good IT help available for anyone anywhere. Period. This is partly due to the overall point of this article and partly due to the break-neck pace at which the industry progresses combined with a lack of intellectual curiosity spread out across our population; who is going to be reading the wikipedia entry on routers when they can be watching Two and a Half Men, right? And how is slashing budgets going to do anything but make that worse?

  • TerenceC

    Many of the unused weapons systems are thoroughly useless – and an incredible waste of money in development and ongoing maintenance. I am reminded of an economics professor I had in college who used the “butter and guns” analogy when lecturing on accepted economic theory of the time. The lesson is still the same today however when the discussion is economic and pointed at the allocation of societies resources. If you apply the majority of your resources toward military expenditure, then there are less resources to apply to other areas of our economy and society. Building up our economy based upon the application of massive expenditures in national defense gives us no long term gains as a society. Building up our society based upon the application of massive expenditures in the building of schools, hospitals and clinics, renewable energies, national broadband, and a national indistrial policy gains us far more competitively in the world. The US will spend $711 billion on national defense in 2008. To put that in perspective in 2008, all of Europe $289 billion, China $122 billion, Eastern Asia and Australia $120 billion, Middle East and North Africa $82 billion, Russia $70 billion – that’s $683 billion (and 30% of those countries are close military allies of the US). Why does 5% of the worlds population need to spend 48% of the global expenditure on national defense? Sure, we’re walking around free, but are we really? If we have a national debt approaching 100% of GDP, a poorly educated population, crumbling infrastructure, no national industrial policy, and a willfully ignorant population toward these issues how free are we really? It’s easy to kick Ward Churchill – he invites it – but if there are no elements in a society to provoke the status quo our society suffers as well. A reasonable national defense policy is in order certainly. However, the US simply can’t afford to spend like this anymore – with very little to show for it. Let’s face it, the DoD is a great sucking pig on our national resources and funnels very little back into our society that is useful and part of a long term plan for national success. I have 2 kids in private colleges, the tuition and expenditures are crushing, but I am lucky enough to be in a position where I can help them – but many people aren’t. What kind of a society are we becoming when we spend the majority of our resources on national defense and debt servicing while allowing so many other areas of our society to crumble? It’s indecent, immoral, and just plain wrong.

  • Justin Gardner


    That’s not my entire solution. But I do think we need to start looking at the sacred cows in our budgets and question the value of expensive, experimental projects. Because we’re talking about our competitiveness on the world stage here, and we can have all the fancy weapons systems in the world, but we’ll ultimately lose the bigger fight if we’re not well equipped to handle the realities of the 21st century and eventually the 22nd as well. That’s why I’m talking about a priority shift.

    One other thing, I think we can all agree that most government agencies can tighten their belts and become more efficient. But I focused on DoD because they’re never asked to do this unless a Democrat is in the White House. And it’s that same mentality that propelled us into a ridiculously expensive war in Iraq that we couldn’t afford but deemed absolutely necessary. Sorry, but “defense” is the biggest cover for irresponsible spending that exists in this country and until we acknowledge that we’ll be constantly scratching our heads wondering why we can’t balance budgets.

  • George Mauer

    Aaaand I’ve got more to say.

    Rich, you know who those specialty officers are? They’re people who graduated with degrees in English, in Art, or in Marketing. The people who were told that they could do whatever they wanted and then realized that nobody wanted to hire them as is. They should have been specialists, engineers, scientists (again, see “The Gathering Storm” but they had some vague thoughts about law school and were assured that its ok.

    We’ve got a huge paradox that very few people have acknowledged in our education community. There is education and there is training. Education should serve to bolster general knowledge, refinement as a person, and start an academic career. Training is learning the skills necessary to fulfill a particular role in society. Universities should be education, vocational schools should be training. Simple.

    However, since vocational schools are generally seen as a joke (and they are) most high school graduates don’t see them as a real possibility for engineering, computer science or nursing, or any other training. Also, because the divide is not acknowledged, people go to universities without the understanding that they’re being educated but not being trained for a job.

    Solutions? I dunno.

  • Benjamin

    Sure we could move defense spending to education. And we could subsidise University tuitions. But all of these solutions is just moving money around, none of them solve structural issues in the way finances are handled.

    There are two problems that I see as hindering progress in the States. Firstly, Americans on the whole have a negative savings rate. When one is in debt to finance frivolous purchases, it’s no wonder that university is unreachable (please note this is an example, even if we all saved university would still be ludicrous). Sadly, this is a problem with no solution that would not be ridiculously heavy-handed. Luckily, however, the second issue is more clear-cut. Why does the government not have enough money to do anything? Because it’s not collecting any. I can’t speak for most people, but at $100k a year I’m paying a 15% effective income tax rate. This is ludicrous–I can think of no reason why I’m not paying _at least_ 25% in income taxes.

    Why can other nations provide university educations to their populations that are equal in quality to most public American universities for nearly free? Even the Brits, with the most expensive university fees in Europe pay about $7000 a year. Because the government collects taxes.

    And really, the thing that really disgusts me is that any change to solve the second problem shall be hindered by the first problem. I am shocked that previous generations let the country get this way, we can’t just raise taxes becuase people have squandered all their money away. A gradual increase in taxes over the next few years is the only hope this nation has for solving all these issues.

    What are the top domestic issues these days? Healthcare. University Tuition. Crime. Almost all of which would be improved with more funding (save perhaps primary and secondary education, although that’s a different story). If you complain about any of these and then vote for someone who will cut taxes, shame on, shame on you.

  • The Paradox

    The US higher education system has become a load of bull. I went straight into the workforce after high school and I’m one of those kids who was unusually smart and became lazy – doing little work and acing tests – starting a trend in early high school that set me up for failure in the world of academics. That said my attempts to go back to school have left me so angry that I simply stopped caring, for fear that I might implode. As my local, now fairly prestigious state school’s financial administrator told me when I tried to make my complex situation work, “this is a business.”

    Schools aren’t making money off of teaching you how to think creatively, solve complex problems, and teaching you to be the best you can be. School are making money off of demand generated by social networks that help land grads a job, with less regard for their ability than their “alma mater.”

    High school trains you to jump through hoops so you can get into a good school – memorize facts and pass standardized tests and convince “good” colleges to admit you. College does the same, except your new goal is to convince some big shot that you deserve a job. Little real learning, more hoops and more memorizing. Sure, there are plenty of exceptions…but I learn besides these kids then I work with them. We group in school to work on a project and I always carry my group mates as they struggle. They join my team at work and I feel déjà vu.

    It becomes clearer as you see so many discoveries and ideas coming from college students who came from China or India for college. Sure, some Americans are up there…but is the ratio proportional to enrollment?

  • Doug Mataconis


    If you want me to go all libertarian, then I’ll point out that there’s one very good reason why the cost of college education has escalated faster than anything else — (1) it’s a monopoly nearly completely protected from competition and heavily regulated by the state, and (2) we’ve all become convinced of the idea that there is something inherently valuable in a college education, even if all the student gets at the end of 4 years is a degree in “Liberal Arts” or, worse yet, “Art History” and then finds that there’s very little demand in the job market for the skills they’ve supposedly learned.

  • TerenceC

    Doug – The foundation of higher education is in the Liberal Arts. Specializing in Business, Engineering, Medicine, or even Art History only comes after a strong foundation. Higher education is designed to help people become more effective at reading, writing, speaking, and thinking critically. I have known many software engineers, accountants, and business graduates that have a degree but can’t communicate effectively. Some of the most accomplished people in our society are graduates in the Liberal Arts. Give people a chance to study what ever they want in an advanced setting and we’ll all be better off as a result. It doesn’t matter what they graduate with, inasmuch as they have the opportunity. After graduation circumstances often dictate what career paths are open to them – but atleast it’s their decision and an education can never be taken away from you.

  • Doug Mataconis


    I spent four years in college and saw too many people who were taking classes more because they found them entertaining than for their educational value.

    If we’re going to “invest” public money in higher education, though, it should be channeled into areas of concentration that will actually be of benefit to society. Subsidizing someone’s summer sojurn in Europe and calling it a “sabbatical” is not something that public money should be doing.

  • Doug Mataconis

    Schools aren’t making money off of teaching you how to think creatively, solve complex problems, and teaching you to be the best you can be. School are making money off of demand generated by social networks that help land grads a job, with less regard for their ability than their “alma mater.”

    They are also making money off of sports and the research grants that their professors, who spend much less time in the classroom than they did even 10 years ago, spend time applying for.

  • TerenceC

    Some of the bigger colleges are like that – but the small Liberal Arts Colleges don’t do that kind of thing and most of their graduates (Liberal Arts) – in excess of 60% in many cases – go on to the Masters and Doctoral level. I don’t advocate sending kids on a European vacation on the tax payer dime – but 2 to 4 years of community service (either nationally or internationally) isn’t going to hurt any 21 year old – no matter where they are from.

  • Doug Mataconis

    2 to 4 years of community service (either nationally or internationally) isn’t going to hurt any 21 year old

    Now you lose me.

    I oppose mandatory community service as vehemently as I oppose the draft.

    I would have resisted it if it existed when I was younger, and I’d encourage my kids to do the same.

  • kranky kritter

    I didn’t have time to read the comments so someone may have already pointed out what I’m about to say.

    I’m for serious reform of the college mission and structure. No one questions that education is crucially necessary for many skilled vocations. But the vast majority of college graduates don’t work in the field they majored in. What if, in the future, prospective employers decide to spend less time looking at the resume section that says “I went to university X” and more time looking at the section that says ” have skills a, b, and c, and am proficient in using technologies x, y, and z?

    Our college system seems to get more bloated all the time. So many schools continually seek to grow, and their mission extends far beyond educating its own undergraduate students. Many professors regard actual teaching to be an unpleasant chore.

    So there are two questions we have to ask colleges:

    1. In the 21st century, how important is it to insist upon a very loosely construed core liberal arts education instead of desirable work skills education?

    2. Which is more important, educating your undergraduates, or growing your school by adding graduate programs and having your professors focus on academic research?

  • Jimmy the Dhimmi

    I actually think too many people are going to 4 year liberal arts colleges, precisely for the reasons Doug mentioned. They spend 4 years majoring in “Ethnic sepratist studies” and write a thesis on “Lesbians in 20th century journalism.” Ask a manufacturer how hard it is to find a good machinist these days.

    You will make more money if you go to vocational high school and start working at 18 in a coal mine or as an airplane mechanic or something of that nature throughout the course of your career. And you will have contributed much more to society than becoming a sociologist that makes money by getting grants to do useless “research” that doesn’t benefit anyone other than the future sociologists you will be teaching as a tenured professor.

    Also, the defense vs education question is one of priorities of government. The primary purpose of the government is to defend its citizens, not to provide higher education to adults, unless of course its for the purpose of national defense. If you want to become a sociologist or get your MBA, then you should be on your own.

  • George Mauer

    Jimmy, it IS a national security concern. See “Rising Above the Gathering Storm”.

  • J. Harden

    First things off: KILL the tenure system. Some of these professors are not only as worthless as a tit on a bore, but its easier to get rid of some terminal venerial disease than some self-impressed creative-writing imbecile with tenure. Tenure shouldn’t exist for any teacher — it keeps the crap in.

    Second things off: A poli-sci, history, english or art history degree is good for one thing: Writing a blog. That’s frigg’in it. And I think we all know what that does for productivitiy. We need fewer lawyers and armchair political hacks and more people who actually know how to do something to benefit society.

  • Doug Mataconis


    Agreed on the first point.

    On the second — actually, a poly sci degree is good for two things, blogging and going to law school. What relevance law school has to actually being a lawyer is another question

  • Rich Horton

    A poli-sci, history, english or art history degree is good for one thing: Writing a blog.

    I resent this. The implication is if you have a Poli Sci degree you do not contribute to the benefit of society. Many Poli Sci majors go on to law school….. oh…never mind.

    Actually….the best retail managers I ever knew were History and Poli Sci undergrads. The absolute worst were Business majors.

    Just saying…

  • J. Harden

    the best retail managers I ever knew were History and Poli Sci undergrads.

    “I wrote my thesis on the Transgendered Lebanese Folk-rock Movement in Greenwich Village in the early 60’s.”

    “Okay, but do you have these jeans in a 36 waist.”

    “Yeah, let me go check in back.”

  • TerenceC


    The 2-4 years of community service is a proposal on the table that is an agreement between the student and the government. Currently a grant of $4k per year (at a state school) is given in trade for community service upon graduation- that’s what I was referring to – it isn’t mandatory it’s an agreement.

  • Doug Mataconis


    1. How long before this “agreement” becomes mandatory ? Not long I suspect. Rahm Emanuel for one has long been an advocate of mandatory community service.

    2. So the government makes college education unaffordable, and then forces you to do it’s bidding when you try to get money to pay for it ? Yea, that’s fair.

    Voluntary or not, it’s wrong and I’ll oppose it.

  • J. Harden


    It’ll just be another way for the feds to shit on poor kids. You and I both know that we would pay a slew of money to get our children out of the country before they were forced to go to work for the State. I would sooner be imprisoned than live in country where my daughters were **forced** to work for the government. We have the financial means to side-step any such attempt. So what will Her Emanuel (you’d think a Jewish person would be tentative about a national youth program!) end up with: further socio-eco stratisfication brought on by twisted social engineering.

  • TerenceC

    You may oppose it – but people who want to go to school but don’t have the means will volunteer. The idea is to give people choices to better themselves – it isn’t a hand out…it’s proposed as an agreement. Sort of like the people who join the Army for the college plan….they aren’t forced…it’s an agreement. However, in this case it gives people a chance for a college degree without forcing them to incur debt or join the military.

  • Alan Stewart Carl

    A poli-sci, history, english or art history degree is good for one thing: Writing a blog.

    Hey, wait just a minute. I have a poli sci degree and I … oh hell.

    But, really, I think my education gave me a pretty solid base for acquiring and using knowledge. Universities shouldn’t be technical schools. There is value in learning subjects that don’t have an obvious “real world” use.

  • blackoutyears

    Good point about the G.I. Bill, Terence. I have a lot of friends who used it, despite the fact that they actually just ended up career soldiers when all was said and done. I was fortunate to have half of my schooling covered by grants and scholarships and the other half by my wonderful parents (if only they read this blog). My wife would have been perfectly happy for a community service for tuition program and has said so many times when the proposal is discussed. How about we let people like her (two crack-addicted parents, in foster care from age 13 until h.s. graduation, no financial support from extended family) make their own decisions without the Mataconises, Hortons and Hardens of the world lecturing them on how *exploited* they are.

  • Mike

    The primary purpose of the government is to defend its citizens, not to provide higher education to adults, unless of course its for the purpose of national defense.

    Actually I think this is at the heart of the question for me. What is the role of government? Conservatives argue for a hands-off government–let the free market work. That’s the only fair way: those who work hard (including in school) get more. Seems fair, right?

    I agree with them almost always, but on certain key issues the argument breaks down: education and health care. The way some people defend the free market makes it seem like a religion–they fail to see anything wrong with it. But, in fact, the flaw of the free-market is that it is fundamentally unfair. It is not fair that whether a kid can afford college, and what college he can go to, depends on his parent’s economic status. And the inequality begins far before college. Our entire system of education is weighted heavily against the poor, creating a viscous cycle.

    The free market ideology fails to consider that there may be circumstances beyond our control (in this case, parent’s economic status) that affect our success. It is not even close to entirely dependent on our own hard work and wise decisions. I’ll spare you the obligatory exceptions which are often brought up, except that I’ll say that I don’t consider Barack Obama an exception to the general rule.

    So the question you raise I think is important: what is the role of government? Is it to give us all a level playing field (which some consider a supposed benefit of the free market), or is it to let us all be free to succeed and fail, even when through no credit or fault of our own. I don’t believe it can do both. Our current system is sort of a hybrid of the two–sort of like we can’t make up our mind what kind of country we want to be.

    With that rant aside, even if you fall on the side that the government should try to make things fair (equal opportunity), pouring more money into a flawed system isn’t necessarily going to fix things. So what’s my answer to fix the education system? You didn’t actually think I was going to come up with some brilliant solution at the end of this long comment, did you? Sorry to disappoint.

  • Rich Horton

    “I wrote my thesis on the Transgendered Lebanese Folk-rock Movement in Greenwich Village in the early 60’s.”

    My goodness. What do you think we are doing to our undergrads? I just want them to be remember the difference between Hobbes and Locke, or be able to relate Federalist #10 to the idea of pluralism.

    They can get warped on their own time. (They don’t usually need my help for that anyway.)

  • J. Harden

    Rich –

    Exactly. For most 4 year state university a classical liberal education simply no longer exists. They don’t read Hobbes, Locke or the Federalists Papers anymore. The classical liberal arts have been replace with the retardation of “cultural studies” departments. They read Cornell West, Edward Said and anything written on the back of a napkin by a latin american lesbian poet. Most liberal arts departments need to have the doors padlocked and the building fumigated.

  • blackoutyears

    Thanks for the last couple of posts. I wasn’t aware that people were still under the impression that dead white guys need defending. Good to know that people still inanely deem useless any education not restricted to calculus or quantum theory. Feels like Ronald Reagan is still president every time I encounter that sort of banality.

  • TerenceC

    There’s no accounting for taste – and even less for opinions – maybe that’s why we blog. At any rate, the military gets alot of career people who joined for the college benefits initially. After 2-3 years the ease of credit, the free room and board in addition to the relatively easy work (providing someone isn’t trying to blow your bollocks off) keeps them there. Normally they are shouldering some pretty large debt at the 3-4 year mark. The internal recruiters tell them that “it’s tough out there”, or they get married and have a couple of kids. Bottom line, in large measure they are locked in. They do their 20 or 30 years and then get another civilian job with some government agency or military contractor – while pulling down their pension and free medical. Not a bad way to go out. Had they the choice at the age of 18 to join the military for their college benefits or go to school immediately and then give 2-4 years of community service I think many of those people would have chosen the community service route. The US hasn’t been an agrarian society for many years – but many Americans don’t seem to realize we moved away from that type of social organization a long time ago. Things have to change here. Governments in this day and age must do more than create a military machine while neglecting the parts of that machine (our society) that feed into it. Tyranny is easy, freedom is difficult – the more we spend on the military at the expense of educating our citizens (to name one of many things) the greater the chance that ignorance and complacency will allow the tyrant to flourish – example the last 8 years.

  • Rich Horton

    For most 4 year state university a classical liberal education simply no longer exists. They don’t read Hobbes, Locke or the Federalists Papers anymore. The classical liberal arts have been replace with the retardation of “cultural studies” departments.

    Look, I know there is a lot of nonsense out there, but it isn’t all that way. Were you to take my “Political Theory from the Renaissance to Marx” course this spring you would be reading Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, etc., and not taught from a eco-animal rights-queer theory-post modernist-cultural relativist perspective. I know there are the nut jobs who feel their intro english composition class is the perfect opportunity to indoctrinate impressionable freshmen to be their ideological minions…but there are not hat many of them. Really. That doesnt mean we have to accept such garbage when it occurs, but we shouldn’t lose perspective either.

  • Rich Horton

    blackoutyears says:

    Thanks for the last couple of posts. I wasn’t aware that people were still under the impression that dead white guys need defending.

    Hmm… Just like many of my students, you need to work on your reading comprehension skills.

  • blackout

    Rich, I’ll just as happily return the favor and lump you with many of my instructors in your self-intoxication (If only I’d taken your class omg!). For the record I’ve always scored exceptionally high on reading comprehension. Hobbes, Locke and Jay are dead and white, n’est-ce pas? I’d love to see the poli-sci text book that didn’t feature Hobbes and Locke. Let’s not confuse issues of retention with issues of precedence. Amusingly, I suppose the old saw of student re professor still stands where you’re concerned: you do imagine that yours is the only class I’m taking.

  • john


    Generally I agree with you about “greening” a building. I’m in the building trade, I know people in the Green Building Council, and LEED. There are quantifiable affects of those investments. Most pay themselves off within ten years. the other investments are mostly for face value. I think most places could do well by saying LEED equivalent. That way you don’t have to pick up the 1% additional costs. The overall additional cost for a LEED building is approximately 10%. Of which 5% or so will pay itself back within a relatively short period of time.

  • Uncle B

    China has more post-grad students enrolled in Sciences than U.S. has high school students, period! So all arguments are circular and or redundant! The U.S.A. is in a virtually no starter race to the bottom all by itself! It is simply a very short matter of time before the onslaught of intelligent Asians is let loose on the world to do pretty much as they please. They will turn to the great solar potential of the deserts of their lands, and become coal, oil and nuclear free before the U.S.A. is done diddling and appeasing its Arab and OPEC investment old boys club, and by the end of the (GRD) great republican depression in the U.S.A., Asia will become sole manufacturers to the world! Currently, Asia exports food to feed even the U.S.A. and through superior Asian agricultural technology will develop means and methods to feed those in the world it wishes to feed! China will exploit wind and wave power where practical to do so, and has the population to operate all endeavors cheaply! China, as taught by GM(America) is making Buick Lesabres and Chev Cavalier vehicles in Shanghai as we speak, by 85 cent and hour peasant girls, who live in-factory, poop in slot toilets on the factory floors, sleep in 3’x6′ quarters, on the factory floor, work 12 hours a day, 7 days a week and are picked off of the line when their productivity fails and are sent back to their villages to die, no cost or liability too anyone! China has an endless, self-regenerating supply for this labor! This army of cheap labor is Mao’s revenge! Chinese students work 12 hour days seven days a week, full year! no summers off to lose ground! They do not drive cars, waste time at football, have illicit sex, drink, take dope or carouse, and are determined to be the best they can be for China! Sleep!America Sleep! We are running hard to overtake you and soon the resources of the world will be under our direction! We have duplicated, then bettered your bombs, submarines reactors, radars, and we will continue until the world is a better place for mankind!