Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Economics at Ohio University Richard Vedder’s new book, “Restoring the Promise,” published by the Independent Institute based in Oakland, California, is about the crisis in higher education. He summarizes the three major problems faced by America’s colleges and universities.
First, our universities “are vastly too expensive, often costing twice as much per student compared with institutions in other industrialized democracies.” Second, though there are some important exceptions, students “on average are learning relatively little, spend little time in academic preparation and in some disciplines are indoctrinated by highly subjective ideology.” Third, “there is a mismatch between student occupational expectations after graduation and labor market realities.” College graduates often find themselves employed as baristas, retail clerks and taxi drivers.
The extraordinary high college cost not only saddles students with debt, it causes them to defer activities such as getting married and starting a family, buying a home and saving for retirement. Research done by the New York Federal Reserve Banks and the National Bureau of Economic Research shows that each dollar of federal aid to college leads to a tuition increase of 60 cents.
What happens when many of these students graduate saddled with debt? The Federal Reserve Bank of New York, in an October 2018 report, finds that many students are underemployed, filling jobs that can be done with a high school education. More than one-third of currently working college graduates are in jobs that do not require a degree, such as flight attendants, janitors and salesmen.
Vedder has several important ideas for higher education reform. First, we should put an end to the university monopoly on certifying educational and vocational competency. Non-college organizations could package academic courses and award degrees based upon external examinations.
Regarding financial aid, colleges should be forced to share in covering loan defaults, namely they need to have some skin in the game. More importantly, Vedder says that we should end or revise the federal student aid program.
Vedder ends “Restoring the Promise” with a number of proposals with which I agree:
Walter E. Williams teaches economics at George Mason University.