Colleges: It’s Not Us, It’s You

Politico published a story about the low regard in which colleges and universities are increasingly held by the public.

University presidents say they have been blindsided by charges that they are catering to the wealthy at the same moment that conservatives attack them for elitism, turning their once-untouchable institutions into political punching bags.

Much space is spent on cost, of course, since it’s effects are personal and it lends itself to statistical analysis. Not surprisingly, no space is spent on the correlation of government financial aid programs with rising tuition costs. But then, applying economic principles to government actions is generally not allowed in polite society, is it? That the law of supply and demand applies here is not mere speculation, as a 2015 Federal Reserve Bank of New York (revised 2017) study stated,

We find a pass-through effect on tuition of changes in subsidized loan maximums of about 60 cents on the dollar, and smaller but positive effects for unsubsidized federal loans.

So as more tuition dollars are supplied through grants and loans, more tuition dollars are demanded through rising costs, leaving loan recipients to pay. And allowing low-income students to attend for free is noble, but that tuition money is going to come from someone. That someone is typically the middle-class family that has steady jobs and has saved for college. No grants are coming their way.

Interestingly, the college presidents interviewed seemed to believe that, after cost, they mainly suffer from a perception problem.

Many argue the backlash they’ve faced is part of a larger societal rethinking of major institutions, and that they’re victims of a political cynicism that isn’t necessarily related to their actions. University of Washington President Ana Mari Cauce, for one, compared public attitudes toward universities with distrust of Congress, the legal system, the voting system and the presidency.

Given the particular same-thinking bubble in which these presidents live and work this shouldn’t be surprising. Yet these are the very people to whom we entrust our children to learn to think and live in broader society. People who think group rights, safe zones, and speech restrictions should be part of a free society. College education reflects a particular world view, rather than a diverse set of views, and that’s a problem. It’s a view that prizes group think and advocates for thought crimes. It promotes division because division increases its power. It cannot, nor does it want to, tolerate different viewpoints. A college campus is nothing like the real world, but with every new graduate, the real world is in danger of becoming just a bit more like a college campus.