Right Effect, Wrong Causes

The Chronicle of Higher Education published the article “Senators in Both Parties Agree: States Must Do More for Higher Education” (25 July 2014). The article speaks to how states have defunded public higher education between 2008 and 2014. Here are a few excerpts and my comments:

Senator Harkin, the committee’s chairman, reiterated his view that states largely disinvested from higher education during the most recent recession, driving up the tuition costs and requiring students to go deeper in debt for a college education.”

Finally, our elected officials begin to comprehend the effect (the problem) and its cause – though not its root cause. Failing to do the work to determine the root cause means that proposed corrective actions will miss the mark. To whit,

“The solution, Mr. Harkin said, is to create incentives for states to increase their appropriations for higher education.”

No. The reason why states disinvested in higher education (and K-12 education as well) is because they invested in companies. They gave companies tax breaks and incentives to create jobs or not leave town. The amount of public money re-directed to private enterprise is astonishing. Governors, state legislators, and economic development councils bear responsibility for doing that, and for forcing colleges and universities to raise prices. Read these New York Times articles here, here, and here.

While Senator Alexander identified a different culprit for shrinking state support for public colleges—rising Medicaid costs—he said he too expects states to take the lead in paying for higher education.”

No. Citing rising Medicaid costs is both a ruse and a implicit criticism of public welfare. So what are other solutions to this problem?

“In addition to freeing states from the costs of Medicaid, Senator Alexander said, the federal government could help states and colleges by reducing regulations for federally backed research on campuses and could help families and students by simplifying the process to apply for federal financial aid.”

While perhaps necessary, reducing regulations and simplifying the process to apply for federal financial aid are small dollar problems. Other solutions offered by Indiana’s commissioner of higher education are:

“…cut the number of credits required for most bachelor’s degrees to 120 and will start to define full time as 15 credits per semester, instead of 12, to encourage students to finish their degrees on time.”

Again, while perhaps necessary, these avoid the fundamental problem of re-directing public money to private enterprise.

The article finishes in the typical self-congratulatory way:

“There is no question that higher education is changing—there are new students, new providers, and new concerns for accountability,” Ms. Bell said later in an email. “States are tackling these issues in a big way.”

States are tacking these issues in a small way, undeserving of such praise. Here is more proof of that.

It is remarkable that the fundamental problem goes unrecognized and how the herd moves towards weak solutions that give the appearance of taking action, which is, of course, marketed as “bold action.”

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