Mises Institute Associated Scholar Richard Vedder is interviewed in the Wall Street Journal and discusses the cost of a college education:
Mr. Vedder, age 72, has taught college economics since 1965 and published papers on the likes of Scandinavian migration, racial disparities in unemployment and tax reform. Over the last decade he’s made himself America’s foremost expert on the economics of higher education, which he distilled in his 2004 book “Going Broke by Degree: Why College Costs Too Much.” His analysis isn’t the same as President Obama’s.
In response to President Obama’s plan to control college fees and tuition (covered by Hunter Lewis here):
“In fairness to the president, some of his ideas make some decent, even good sense,” Mr. Vedder says, such as providing students with more information about college costs and graduation rates. But his plan addresses just “the tip of the iceberg. He’s not dealing with the fundamental problems.” College costs have continued to explode despite 50 years of ostensibly benevolent government interventions, according to Mr. Vedder, and the president’s new plan could exacerbate the trend. By Mr. Vedder’s lights, the cost conundrum started with the Higher Education Act of 1965, a Great Society program that created federal scholarships and low-interest loans aimed at making college more accessible. In 1964, federal student aid was a mere $231 million. By 1981, the feds were spending $7 billion on loans alone, an amount that doubled during the 1980s and nearly tripled in each of the following two decades, and is about $105 billion today. Taxpayers now stand behind nearly $1 trillion in student loans.
This growth in subsidies, Mr. Vedder argues, has fueled rising prices: “It gives every incentive and
every opportunity for colleges to raise their fees.” Many colleges, he notes, are using federal largess to finance Hilton-like dorms and Club Med amenities. Stanford offers more classes in yoga than Shakespeare. A warning to parents whose kids sign up for “Core Training”: The course isn’t a rigorous study of the classics, but rather involves rigorous exercise to strengthen the glutes and abs.
Universities, Mr. Vedder says, “are in the housing business, the entertainment business; they’re in thelodging business; they’re in the food business. Hell, my university runs a travel agency which ordinary people off the street can use.”
“Every college today practically has a secretary of state, a vice provost for international studies, a zillion public relations specialists,” Mr. Vedder says. “My university has a sustainability coordinator whose main message, as far as I can tell, is to go out and tell people to buy food grown locally. . . . Why? What’s bad about tomatoes from Pennsylvania as opposed to Ohio?” Mr. Vedder notes that, by contrast, “you don’t have to worry about this at the University of Phoenix. One thing about the for-profits is that they are laser-like devoted to instruction.” Although for-profits like the University of Phoenix and DeVry spend more money on marketing, they don’t contain as much administrative overhead.
Mr. Vedder sees similarities between the government’s higher education and housing policies, which created a bubble and precipitated the last financial crisis. “In housing, we had artificially low interest rates. The government encouraged people with low qualifications to buy a house. Today, we have low interest rates on student loans. The government is encouraging kids to go to school who are unqualified just as it encouraged people to buy a home who are unqualified.”
The higher-ed bubble, he says, is “already in the process of bursting,” which is reflected by all of the “unemployed or underemployed college graduates with big debts.” The average student loan debt is $26,000, but many graduates, especially those with professional degrees, have six-figure balances.
See the full article (behind paywall)