Public Higher Education

Republicans used to believe in helping people help themselves, even if they underestimated the amount and type of help necessary. Now, it seems as though their message is that the government’s given you as much help as you deserve [except for big business], and the rest is up to you, even if you didn’t get any help, and that applies to public higher education as well.

For the Democrats, on the other hand, it seems as though they’re addicted to more and more help, with less and less required of those who receive it and no questioning about whether programs are worthwhile. As I’ve observed previously, the idea of free college education for everyone is nuts, as well as a social, financial, and educational disaster. So is forgiving college debt. But targeted college aid or assistance programs [up to and including full tuition and fees, but also with accountability goals] for promising poor and minority youth make a great deal of sense, assuming that the education bureaucrats can figure out how to make targeting work.

Part of the problem with college aid is that it’s extremely difficult to predict how the majority of students will do in college. Various tests can predict accurately those likely to succeed, IF they’re from a certain higher family income, but aren’t that accurate for students from minorities or less affluent backgrounds. Likewise, with the massive grade inflation and “pass practically everyone” system prevalent in public secondary schools, it’s virtually impossible to determine for the “middle 80%” of college applicants which students have the raw ability. And given how hard some parents push their children, it’s also almost impossible to determine which ones have the determination to succeed on their own.

The result is a huge waste of money and ability, and pouring more money into higher education, under the current system, will only make matters worse. Part of that is because state politicians are more interested in the numbers than the education. So long as more students graduate, even if they’ve learned essentially nothing, the politicians and university bureaucrats can claim “success.”

No one, if for different reasons, is asking the hard questions, such as:

What percent of students can analyze multiple input situations and provide a workable and cogent solution?

What percent of students can read a set of facts and immediately write a logical and grammatically correct analysis?

How good are they at recognizing fallacies?

Why do universities put so much money into athletic programs, while more and more classes are taught by part-time adjuncts, paid poverty-level wages? Why do top
coaches make more money than university presidents?

Why are professors paid, based at least in part, on their popularity as measured by student evaluations, filled out by 18-22 year-olds who know far less about the
subject being taught than the professor?

Why do universities feel that they can’t weed out students who either fail to do the work or appear unable to do so?

Since the Republicans really don’t believe in effective education – except for the elite – and the Democrats think that more aid and money will automatically solve the problem, until both sides are willing to look at public higher education and ask those hard questions – and more than a few others – higher education will consume more and more resources while continuing to diminish the quality of public undergraduate education and bankrupting the unsuccessful students and hanging debt chains around the successful ones [unless they come from family money].

10 thoughts on “Public Higher Education”

  1. Postagoras says:

    I agree with your points, but it’s remarkably difficult to measure abilities and performance.
    Grades are used to measure student’s performance, as credentials to higher learning, assessment of teachers, and assessment of educational institutions. With all those stakeholders, this is a classic case of Goodhart’s Law in action. (Goodhart’s Law: As soon as a measurement becomes a target, people start to lie about it.)
    And since education policy is made at a local level across the United States, it’s only as good as the weakest link in the chain.

    1. R. Hamilton says:

      Here’s the thing: while some standardization of educational policy might be desirable, needs vary by locality, and the federal government has NO authority to do anything more than encourage standardization (10th Amendment!), nor should it.

      Government, especially at the national level, should NOT even attempt to solve every problem.

      In some situations (not just education), I think that IF it could be clearly non-political (or at least with no majority allowed, i.e. equal number of R’s and D’s), the federal government could serve as a neutral clearing house for states to negotiate standards among themselves – provided it took not only a majority of states AND of their population, but a representative sample of urban, suburban, rural, challenged, privileged, or other distinct need/service communities, to reach a consensus – and that redistribution between states was somewhere between nonexistent and optional. And that any (for example) teacher’s union presence was at least matched by the presence of a very miserly taxpayer advocacy group.

      Those with wealthy parents, IF the parents AND (as they get older) the children both have some drive, WILL have advantages. That’s a given, and the notion that it’s unfair that some have advantages that many have to less degree and some don’t have at all, is just not realistic. I don’t have a problem with INITIAL accommodation to the particular needs of subcultures, etc – but there should in the long run be only ONE culture, and after the initial adjustment, it shouldn’t matter if (for example) a word problem involves a rural or urban scenario; the abstraction of the problem is the point, not the trappings. Likewise, there’s probably one primary technique taught for solving certain problems; but valid alternatives exist, and some alternatives work better for some people (the shortcuts I do for mental arithmetic can be convoluted, and I’ve never even studied the Trachtenberg System, although I might – being nearly as fast as a calculator even with big numbers would be fun). However, those who think it unfair that a correct answer obtained by SOME valid method (or even a specific method sometimes) is required, are NOT doing a service to those they shield. Results are ALL that you’re going to get paid for one day; the market doesn’t reward people for being victims; if anything, victims carry an “exploit me” sign, and the market is closer to reality than politics, let alone political correctness.

      1. Postagoras says:

        I actually agree with you about trying to solve political problems at the most local level first.
        But, I can’t think of any Federal Government program that met your criteria, including the Declaration Of Independence.
        Obviously your real goal is to perpetuate shitty local education wherever it exists. Tough luck, folks that live in a poor neighborhoods and work multiple minimum wage jobs, R. Hamilton says your kids deserve a poorly-funded, crappy public school.
        And for those rich folks that have well-funded public schools, R. Hamilton says that your kids deserve it, as well.
        The only subculture that R. Hamilton thinks is deserving is the rich subculture.
        R. Hamilton, stalwart defender of “Thems that has, gets.”

        1. R. Hamilton says:

          I think those who are needy whether educationally or otherwise are the FIRST ones responsible for their need. Those who are able to help and concerned about the needy enough to voluntarily help are the second ones responsible. Everyone else is 0.0% responsible, and Darwin Awards should be expedited for everyone who riots.

          PS I have been known to be among those concerned who help (if not usually until it hurts), so don’t jump to conclusions. I simply don’t believe there’s a RIGHT to needs other than air, because everything else requires confiscating the fruits of other’s labor. I’d regard a certain degree of order as worth being a public expense, but not much else. Perhaps not even stuff I like, like NASA. (military research OTOH is good for blowing up bad foreigners – as opposed to good foreigners, which for the sake of discussion may be supposed to also exist)

  2. JerryChops says:

    College aid has become a numbers game. At the end of the senior year, my former high school holds an assembly wherein they announce the total dollar value of scholarships each student has managed to acquire prior to graduating. They start with the student who has acquired the least, and then work their way to the highest.

    I disliked the affair, both the specticale it created and how it blatantly ignored the tuition cost of each student’s chosen college. I also upset my Mother, as I did not inform my high school of the $14,500 merit scholarship I had qualified for. For reference, I attended a private university with a fixed tuition of $45,000.

    As for college debt forgiveness… I won’t complain if it is offered, but I certainly would not vote in support of it. I’d rather see that money go towards upgrading the nation’s infrastructure, such that FEMA doesn’t need to deploy next year, when it snows in Texas again.

  3. Christopher Robin says:

    Education is no longer about education. Its about gaining a piece of paper that will hopefully open up gainful employment regardless of actual skill/work ethic. The problem is that education is largely a societal expression. Society no longer values learning in the true sense of the word. So much focus has been placed on getting a good job that education has simply become an incidental obstacle rather than something much higher.

    The idea of improving yourself and developing critical thinking skills has been replaced with Google and a piece of paper that says you are qualified.

    1. R. Hamilton says:

      My problem is (aside from the public spending aspect) that most places (perhaps not in Utah, but most other places) have become leftist, even extreme leftist propaganda distributors.

      GENUINE liberals would promote the kind of diversity that in an institution of higher learning should matter every bit as much as the ethnic kind, namely diversity of ideas, even, or perhaps pointedly including, those they don’t happen to agree with, even those that might be held by some to be offensive, as long as they’re not flat out intentional hate speech. (and in the context of historical documents, even that; because of the warning about ignoring history)

  4. Tim says:

    The UK has appointed a minister of state responsible for universities. Part of the remit is to prevent universities denying a platform to views activist students dislike to hear. This arose after instances where senior politicians were denied to speak at Oxford and Warwick.

    Time will tell but I have moved more to the right as a result since I do not like this sort of intolerance.

  5. Matt says:

    I’d like to opine on Mr Modesitt’s questions around the athletics departments, coaching salaries, etc. since no one has touched on those yet. Why do some coaches make more than school presidents? I don’t know all the answers but it is important to clarify where the money comes from to pay the coaches who are earning the highest salaries. Take Nick Sabam at Alabama. He makes over 9 million per year. However, the state of Alabama and the University of Alabama pay him little of that 9 million. The majority of the actual money he earns is made up of shoe and apparel company deals along with funding from their athletic booster club. This is typical for the majority of schools who play in the major sports conferences. So while the coaches are paid massive amounts of money, the money is not coming from tax payers or the universities budget. Take the case of Auburns football coach. He was fired after the 2020 season and his contract called for a severance of over $21 million dollars to be paid within 30 days. That is insane to me but that was the contract. However, Auburn itself did not pay one penny of that severance. A single booster/alumni cut a check for the $21 million. That booster wanted the coach fired so badly he was willing to pay that $ all by himself. The contracts these coaches sign are negotiated upfront by athletic departments raising capital from boosters, Nike, adidas, etc. to pay the salaries and bonuses of the coaching staff. Very little of the coaches salary in major sports is actually paid for using school funds or tax payer money. The athletic departments are set up as separate entities from the university itself. While several schools pull in greater than 100 million in revenue, that pales in comparison to their educational endowments of 6-8 billion, none of which goes to sports.
    So, while the coach may make 10x the president, the educational arm of the college isn’t paying him/her and does not take away from paying the president or teachers. You can question the boosters desire to pay 20 million to fire a coach and some boosters may give money to both education and new buildings and sports, alumni or boosters passionate about sports put their money to the athletic departments. Oil magnate T Boone Pickens gave over 50 million to Oklahoma State football. Nike founder Phil Knight gave over 200 million to Oregon athletic department. It’s their passion and that how they spend their money.

    One reason the schools want successful athletic programs….it has shown to drive applications. For example, in 2013 tiny Florida Golf Coast university made the March Madness basketball (men’s) tournament and won two games as a huge underdog. Immediately following the tourney applications spiked 28%. Wichita St and Lehigh saw 30% increases following success in the 2014 tourney.

    I am not arguing the merit of why boosters and alumni want to pour their money into football or other sports. To each their own. But I did want to clarify that the money for coaches is normally paid out of funds raised from boosters for the sole purpose of paying the coaches and not with competing funds to pay for the president and professors.

    1. Matt says:

      I did want include sone additional information. I mentioned how applications increase with success and exposure to the basketball tourney. The same is true with success on the football field. Clemson and Alabama has seen applications increase dramatically with success on the field. What does this actual do for the school? Well, and I am ball parking the numbers here as I do not remember specifics…bit prolonged success in football has increased applications and enrollment at both Alabama and Clemson. Say Alabama was a school of 30,000 with 75% in state students. Increased applications raised their student average SAT from 1000 to 1200 and high school gpa from 3.0 to 3.5. This increase in student profile and in turn has helped them get millions more in research and other grants. The exposure they get from football success has helped increase enrollment from 30,000 to 40,000 students and that increase is all out of state applicants that pay 3x as much to attend the school. Those are big numbers. While many might find it odd that high schoolers may choose a college based on the success of a sports team it’s actually quite common. The university of Florida was a top 50 public university in 1990. They are now in the top 10. The profile of highly successful coaches (Steve spurrier and urban Meyer) and polarizing players (tim Tebow) helped them raise millions of dollars not just athletically but academically. I can’t think of a single university president who is so well known that they could increase applications in any way that their sports teams do.

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