American Elephants


Why is College So Expensive? Is It Worth It? by The Elephant's Child

b083ddd2-e58a-4a80-a72a-6af0700c5f16So why is College so expensive anyway? Parents who have a child about to enter the American university system are stunned by how much tuition has gone up — way more than normal inflation would amount to.

There are a number of big items at play here. During World War II, the young men went to war, not to college. That meant that colleges and universities limped along with women and 4F men. Even a lot of younger professors were called up. When the war ended in 1945, the G.I.Bill flooded the university system with returned G.I.s and often their new wives. Colleges had to provide housing for married students, and their new babies — the beginnings of the Baby Boom.

Beginning in 1946, and increasing exponentially through the boom’s high water mark in 1957 was a generation that found everything crowded from maternity wards to law school. From 1958 till 1964, the boom gradually ebbed. When the boomers were ready for college, colleges expanded to be ready for them. New dorms, new classrooms new buildings, expanded campuses, and even new colleges. When the baby boom ended and we got back to “normal” — colleges were facing a dearth of students to fill their expanded campuses. Colleges added amenities to attract students, and more amenities.

The federal government stepped in to guarantee student loans, which got the universities off the hook. There had always been scholarships for outstanding students, but student loans meant that universities could charge more because the government guaranteed the loans. There was no push-back from the government on the cost of college, kids could borrow what the colleges charged. Employers demanded college degrees

During the war years, professors salaries were held down, and many had summer jobs to make ends meet. When the baby boom arrived, professors wanted more pay and more free time for research, writing and counseling students. Large lecture classes were turned over to adjuncts who were paid far, far less. Professors with doctorates pointed out that CEO salaries were skyrocketing and they were better educated and deserved better. Inflation.

Inflation meant that everything cost more, and not just college. Food, houses, all kinds of goods. What it meant was is that in most case, both parents had to go to work, and families were smaller. What it meant for American universities was retrenchment. Employers were demanding college degrees, partly because primary education was poorly training students. That was a big benefit for colleges because more kids headed for college with big student loans. Big student loans meant that colleges could charge more. The federal government was subsidizing increased tuition. The politicians insisted that every child should go to college. Not true, some kids are not suited for college, and there are fine professions that do not require college degrees.

The end of the baby boom, and the smaller generation produced by the baby boomers because of inflation and working mothers wasn’t enough to fill up the university system. Some colleges closed, others went for more amenities. Climbing walls, bigger libraries, bigger swimming pools, tennis courts and student unions. More landscaping, sculpture. Professor salaries topped the $200,000 mark, and football coaches earned more, way more, that university presidents.

But they have reached a point of no return. To please students, classes have become silly. Gender studies in all its variations, ethnic studies, social justice, political correctness, speech codes, and on and on until we have today’s little “snowflakes,” who are so confused that they assume a right to be coddled, to never face disagreement or offense, but only sheltered kindness. Which means they protest against speakers who have different ideas than their own.

But Marco Rubio was right. Welders make a lot more than philosophy majors. There are high-paying jobs that do not require a college degree. Parents are home-schooling their kids, or forming charter schools that are part of the public school system but more effective. Teachers unions are fighting back, determined to remain in charge and applying all the political pressure of all the dues collected from teachers to get their way. Parents hate, with reason, Common Core, and the whole idea of a federally-directed curriculum. Federal bureaucrats do not know what is best. Times are always a-changing. Just what comes next will be a battle.

Here I should recommend a couple of books: Great Expectations by Landon Y. Jones, a popular study of the baby boom generation (1980). Essential reading for boomers, their kids, and the following generation who are stuck with paying for Medicare for the retiring boomers. Great fun. The other is really a trilogy, a marvelously funny academic satire by David Lodge, a former British professor.  The books are Changing Places, Small World, and Nice Work, now conveniently offered in one volume. It may be satire, but you learn a lot about academe.

I wonder how many full professors teach a full 15 hour schedule?


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And the thing is, very few college graduates are getting the return on their investment anymore.

Where I started school (Thomas More College, Crestview Hills, KY- BFA/BS ’86) a required course of all freshmen was a philosophy class (Logic and Ethics) that was essentially a training class in critical thinking. My Dad remembers having to take a similar course at Stanford in the late 50’s. A lot of colleges and universities have replaced these types of courses with gender and ethnic (and even sexual identity!) awareness classes that serve no purpose other than to make someone feel better about themselves. Even Georgetown, where I got my masters degrees, has a required seminar during orientation covering “diversity awareness”.

Comment by Lon Mead




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