Michael Barone writes about the decline but, in the end, questions why no "fall" has come to American universities mired in disgraceful capitulation to speech codes, second rate scholarship, racial quotas, and the myriad of other ridiculous and failed social experiments that keep them from offering good value in their products. An understanding of the rise of cowardice and petty tyranny that characterizes much of what takes place on the campuses of most American universities, is a familiar narrative to most of us reading this blog. But what remains unexplained is why parents--who dutifully fork over increasingly burdensome sums of money to pay for this so-called "education"--continue to do so. As the product becomes less valuable--in real (i.e., intellectually meaningful) and in pure economic (i.e., job expectations) terms--the demand and the price have (oddly) risen in tandem. There appears to be a huge disconnect between what’s actually happening on college campuses and what parents and students who foot the bills believe is going on. It’s either that or, alternatively, everyone knows about the sham but they pay into it anyway for the sake of the "degree." The degree is still a necessary rite of passage for those who want to fall into rather than scrape into economic security.
It is a point of honor among most young parents I know to become familiar with and diligently apply themselves to the details of their 529 accounts and plans for college savings. But when these same parents talk of what their precious charges will actually do with those carefully charted nest-eggs--their focus is more hazy. There is a sense that little Johnny will, of course, know what is best for him to do when the time comes. These things will all take care of themselves and my role, as parent, is just to foot the bill and get out of the way. Parents who have spent 12 years or more hovering over their children like anchored helicopters, suddenly cut the cord and fly off into the distance when it comes to what their kids are "studying" in college.
I’m not arguing for more "hovering"--certainly not for 20 year olds in college. But before parents send their kids off to college today, I think there is plenty of room for more careful evaluation of the product. Is what you’re getting worth $15K, $30K or even $50K a year? Might their be a less expensive and equally useful alternative? Is college even necessary or good for this particular child? These are questions few people seem to ask anymore. I can’t help but think, however, that as costs continue to climb, more and more people will begin to ask things like, "Is a degree in "Women’s Studies" from an Ivy League institution really worth $200K?" or "Do I really need to pay $30K a year to get training for X? Might it not be smarter and more to the point to save the money and instead go to tech school?" When people start asking these questions more regularly, we might finally begin to see some real improvements in our universities.
It goes without saying that the smart money works to make sure their kids become Ashbrook Scholars.