Editorials: Sad news for old Siwash U.
Millions ask the unthinkable question, is a college education really worth it?
Is a college education worth the time and expense to get one? This is a question that only yesterday almost nobody would ask, lest he be dismissed as rustic, crank, ignoramus, or worse. Owning a home and getting a college degree for the children have been the fundamental goals of Americans for generations.
But now, in the wake of the collapse of the intellectual tradition on campus, the question is asked in intellectually respectable precincts, and asked often.
“Too many people are going to college,” says Charles Murray, the eminent social scientist with an unusual gift for eliminating academic jargon, and saying what he means without trying to dress it up with argle-bargle that not even another social scientist can decipher.
Mr. Murray, who has been attacked for political incorrectness on campus and has the scars from Middlebury College in Connecticut to prove it, has in fact been delivering a message like this for years, in books, lectures and published essays. He even wrote a book about it. In fact, several.
If his observation is correct, the good news is that college enrollment has been declining over the last decade or so. The campus, like the swamp, could profit by draining it for a lot of flotsam and considerable jetsam. The best news of all, perhaps, is that law school enrollment declined a stunning 31 percent between 2010 and 2015. The numbers are even worse in some places. Enrollment in the freshman class at the University of Missouri last year plunged 35 percent after rioters, led by one of the professors, demanded satisfaction for student demands, and the humiliated university administration quickly caved.
Richard Vedder and Justin Stehle, economics professors at Ohio University, argued in The Wall Street Journal that a primary cause of public disillusion is that the price of a college education keeps rising ever higher and the economic returns keep shrinking. Parents are doing the cost analysis that university administrators don’t, or won’t, and act accordingly. Since the turn of the 21st century, college tuition has increased 74 percent, adjusted for inflation, while the difference between what high school graduates and college graduates earn shrank by 10 percent.
“For years,” observes Michael Barone of the Washington Examiner, “policymakers subsidized higher education, like [they subsidized] home ownership because they noticed that college graduates and homeowners earned more and had stronger community ties than others. The thinking was, more subsidies would produce more of both.”
But it’s not working out that way, as the cold numbers demonstrate. Federal aid and student loan proceeds have been absorbed by the colleges and universities, Mr. Barone observes, and hence the universities now employ more administrators than teachers. A growing number of universities can’t even maintain order on campus. Many professors grew up in the ’60s, when the mantra everywhere was “if it feels good, do it.” Learning anything beyond politically correct attitudes usually didn’t feel good. Students interested in Shakespeare or American constitutional government need not apply.
Much of this is not new; the destruction of authentic scholarship has been coming for years. But what is new is that millions of Americans, and particularly parents of student-age children, have concluded, sadly, that the book, such as it is, is not worth the candle.