An article in today’s Daily Free Press focused on the high costs of higher education. Not surprisingly, students protested by making the following claims:
“Money’s for jobs and education, not for banks and corporations.”
“…universities are acting more and more like corporations, handing
out big salaries and bonuses to administrators while workers on campus
struggle to make a living wage.”
“Education is a right, not just for the rich and white,”
You can read the article in its entirety here.
This idea that “Education is a right, not just for the rich and white,” is preposterous because it actually violates individual rights to provide services (not rights) to others (as for the rich and white comment, you should know that enrollment growth is the highest for students of color).
Education has costs. The costs for such a service has to come from somewhere. Right now students are heavily subsidized by either the state (in the case of subsidies supplied through various state taxes), or the federal government (through various programs such as Pell Grants and subsidized government loans). But in order to obtain that money, it must first be taken from somebody; it is not given voluntarily (as in the case of private scholarships). Therefore, those who do not obtain an education are forced to subsidize the education of others, and students who jockey for position to receive their handouts are no different than the special interests they decry during OWS protests. How ironic!
As Ayn Rand has written, “The concept of a “right” pertains only to action—specifically, to freedom of action. It means freedom from physical compulsion, coercion or interference by other men. Thus, for every individual, a right is the moral sanction of a positive—of his freedom to act on his own judgment, for his own goals, by his own voluntary, uncoerced choice. As to his neighbors, his rights impose no obligations on them except of a negative kind: to abstain from violating his rights.”
The last sentence is the most important – a right cannot exist at the expense of others. This is a fundamentally moral proposition.
I agree that the cost of higher education is too high, but we must correctly address the question, what is driving it? It’s certainly not the “bonuses” given to administrators. Spreading the cost of any bonus (or the collection thereof) across the student population is likely to see minuscule savings.
The chief cause of inflating costs has to do with the inflated credit bubble created by the federal government by creating financial aid programs. Sounds strange, doesn’t it? But looking at empirical data suggests that tuition has significantly increased ever since the enactment of the Higher Education Act, which drove up demand. Federal assistance to combat increasing tuition only exacerbates the problem.
This is because the so-called “free money” being doled out to students gives a strong incentive for universities (public and private) to expand in many ways, whether it’s hiring more faculty in worthless degree programs not supported by the market, new construction (gymnasiums, student centers, etc), or lining the pockets of administrators (though I suspect this amount is small comparatively). In other words, government financial aid programs create incentives for bad behavior in both for-profit and non-profit schools. A Heritage Foundation article put it this way:
A course manual reveals some of these inefficient practices. Courses of dubious academic value like the University of Iowa’s “Elvis as Anthology” course, “Ecofeminism” offered by the University of Florida, “Philosophy and Star Trek” at Georgetown University, “Environmental Justice” at the University of Colorado, and “Queering American History” at the University of California, Los Angles, are not uncommon. Extravagant facility improvements are also on the rise. New York Times journalist Greg Winter wrote recently of the growing practice of providing students with lavish perks like hot tubs, pools, manicures, climbing walls, and movie theatres. He states, “[T]he competition for students is yielding amenities once unimaginable on college campuses, spurring a national debate over the difference between educational necessity and excess.”
For more information, see this Policy Analysis from the Cato Institute: