Higher Education is a national priority. Just ask President Obama. We need to invest ever more dollars in education in order to keep our global competitive edge. We need to make sure that 26 year-olds can stay on Mommy and Daddy's insurance plan so that they can afford to stay (and stay, and stay, and stay) in school. We've increased the tuition tax credits for
low- and middle-income families, more than doubled the money spent on Pell grants and turned the Pell into an entitlement program. These things are noted and cheered by many politicians and voters who claim to want only the best for American education. And they make you look churlish if you question the wisdom of these things.
Yet, even for these cheerleaders of federal spending on education, there are occasions for questioning just how wisely our money is being spent. Predictably, the occasion that is now drawing ire is the turning of a profit. So coming up for special scrutiny are the ways in which for-profit universities have abused this funding with reports of huge profits and out-sized salaries for executives ($41 million went to the CEO of a holding company of one such university).
But, while not questioning the legitimate need for federal oversight in these institutions, Greg Beato
at Reason.com notes the selective scrutiny brought to bear on for-profit universities from Congress, the President, the GAO and the Department of Education. One particular and legitimate gripe against them is the practice of grade-inflation for the purpose of retaining eligibility for student federal aid. A practice, I am sure (do note my heavy sarcasm), that never occurs at any so-called "respectable" institution. But legitimate as these gripes are, Beato thinks the abuses at for-profit universities probably pale in comparison to the ones we willingly overlook in the (so-called) "non-profit" sector.
Everyone kinda knows this, but it is easy to overlook. We take an understandable pride in the growth of our alma-maters and in the amenities they offer. Having said that, today's college experience is not your father's college experience. Heck, it's not even yours or mine.
Let's start with the one outrageous expenditure that tickled me the most: the eSuds program. I think this one jumped out at me because I still carry the battle scars from the "bad old days" when doing laundry meant taking the life of your wardrobe into your own hands. I remember well the hassle and inconvenience of doing laundry while away at school; the hustling for quarters, the long waits for an available machine, the feeling of oppression as you were tied to a dingy room. Sometimes we even suffered the indignity of having to creep down into a basement where one might have to wait amid the dank, dark dungeons of mold and accumulated dryer sheets to make sure no one ran off with your unmentionables. And what did you do while you were waiting there? Sometimes it came down to the horrors of having to do homework or study or something equally dreadful.
Mercifully, for today's college student, those days are now over. At a number of America's finest colleges and universities where, apparently, costs and other pressing matters are so thoroughly under control
that there are abundant resources for chasing down Johnny's socks, you can now watch the progress of your laundry on-line. No need to interrupt the game of Assasin's Creed you and your buddies are engaged in . . . just a quick look at the bubble screen above and you'll be sure to know when it's time to move from the washer to the dryer. After all, why should college students suffer from the mental distress brought on by panty raiders or other impatient laundry patrons? With eSuds your laundry can get more attention from its guardian than children can in some daycare facilities.
Now, after a tough day of laundry and gaming, you might need to get a little color in your cheeks and get the blood pumping again. If you're at Cornell, you're in luck. They boast the "largest indoor natural rock climbing wall in North America." And honestly, what is the value of a four-year hiatus in college without access to that? Some school offer tanning salons--just in case you're in need of a shot of vitamin D. On the other hand, perhaps your youthful yet tired bones prefer the 53 person super-sized jacuzzi at the University of Washington. I think you might be able to experience some pretty interesting "seminars" in there. Not sure who will be working on the cures for that kind of seminar, however, because the construction boom of 2000-2009 produced mainly athletic facilities followed up closely by entertainment venues. There were a few libraries in there too . . . but who goes to those anymore?
Of course, in order to facilitate the operation of this complicated cruise-like atmosphere, you're going to need administrators. Apparently you need a lot
of administrators. Increases in spending on administration have gone up as much as 600 percent at some universities. Think of Julie on the Love Boat
, but with a background in diversity studies and a hefty salary to compensate her work. Full professors of this variety, apparently, aren't faring too poorly either, with some making pay that is well into six figure range. But lowly adjuncts and junior professors (who do the bulk of the actual
undergraduate teaching at many schools) might soon qualify for some other form of federal assistance. Perhaps many of them already do?
Beato notes that, "[u]nder [a Department of Education] proposal, called 'Gainful
Employment,' institutions who graduate a large number of students
with excessive debt-to-earnings ratios or who fail to repay their
loans on time will lose access to federal grants and loans" . . . and that's swell. But if we continue to pretend that the abuses happening in the "non-profit" world of higher education are merely the legitimate costs of a worthwhile and world-class education, we're going to be guilty of stupidity as well as duplicity. Moreover, our students will have wicked tans and killer biceps (if they can avoid stacking on the pounds from the gourmet cookies in the cafeteria), but little else to show for the debt they incur while "getting an education."