More money doesn't mean better education

By Cal Thomas, Los Angeles Times Syndicate

June 1994 – American colleges and universities are approaching financial, intellectual and moral collapse – with profound consequences for students and the nation. So concludes Hillsdale College president George Roche in his new book, The Fall of the Ivory Tower: Government Funding, Corruption, and the Bankrupting of American Higher Education (Regnery Publishing).

Roche refutes the argument that more money means better education by noting that the budget for college-level education has increased from $7 billion in the early 1960s to its present $172 billion.

“In spite of the massive infusion of money,” he writes, “tens of thousands of college seniors do not know when Columbus sailed to the new world, who wrote the Declaration of Independence or why the Civil War was fought. Businesses rightly complain that they must re-educate college graduates in such basic academic skills as grammar, spelling and practical math.”

Roche says that while ’60s-style radicalism lingers in many universities, that is not the entire reason for their deplorable condition. Government subsidy and control, he says, have been more damaging than anyone realizes.

Despite massive infusions of government money, including student financial assistance (which is in default, in growing numbers of cases), most colleges and universities are teetering on the brink of collapse. Why? “They are overcommitted to entitlements in exactly the same way as is the federal government.”

A few examples: Harvard ran a $42 million deficit in 1991-92 and has lost millions in speculative investments; Yale has deferred $1 billion in maintenance on its physical campus; the City University of New York system wants to cut $40 million from its budget; UCLA is closing four professional schools and must cut $38 million from its budget by the end of this year; the University of Maryland is getting rid of 56 academic departments, is reorganizing 59 others and has closed one entire college.

Abuse, fraud and mismanagement due to “internal control weaknesses” within the federally administered Stafford Loan program are currently eating up more than 54% of total program costs. There are also record deficits in the Pell Grant program, which even gives tuition money to convicted criminals while they are serving time in prison.

Roche says we are witnessing “an S&L-style financial crisis ... (featuring) vast instability and corruption.” He faults politicians for turning their backs on the crisis (as they did with the S&Ls) and pouring good money after bad – for example, abandoning financial need requirements for the Stafford Loans, conferring eligibility upon everyone.

As more federal money comes into the universities, they jack up their prices. Why should students care about high tuition charges at Harvard when two thirds of its undergraduates receive financial aid?

In addition to the financial crisis, there are the continuing academic and moral crises. “Colleges and universities have increasingly adopted a ‘cattle-car’ approach to education,” Roche says. “Classes crammed with 500 to 1,000 students are now commonplace. And many colleges have drastically reduced the number of classes they offer. The University of Wisconsin has been known to close courses in the first hour of registration—even for seniors in their major field of concentration. At the University of Texas, nearly 1,000 students were turned away from a required English course.”

Recently a student tracking the education of more than half a million students at 300 institutions documented that only about half were able to earn a bachelor’s degree within six years.

The average professor is in class only six to nine hours a week. Growing numbers of introductory classes are taught by teaching assistants. Sixty percent of all college faculty members have never written or edited a book, and one-third have never published a single journal article.

Those that are printed include absurd works like “The Sexual Politics of Meat,” “The History of a Lesbian Community,” “Staying Tuned: Contemporary Soap Opera Criticism” and, my personal favorite, “Men, Women and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film.”

Roche contends that the moral crisis in academia makes the others pale in comparison. The moral development of college students has not only been abandoned, it is being aggressively undermined. Many universities promote “condom weeks,” complete with free samples and “taste tests.” Students are not allowed to request transfers out of rooms in which roommates behave in heterosexual or homosexual ways that offend. This is viewed as discrimination.

“The University of Massachusetts Amherst,” says Roche, “has defined pedophiles as a protected minority within its nondiscrimination code. At Cornell University, resident adviser job applicants have been forced to watch movies of men engaged in sex in order to be evaluated for ‘homophobic’ tendencies.”

This is a blockbuster book that ought to be read by everyone who cares about American college students. It can also serve as a warning to parents to select wisely and well when their children go to college.