Against my better judgement, before I left Washington, DC … I went to grad school.
With the recent commencement exercises on campuses across the country, I’ve been reminded of my dalliance in higher ed. I didn’t want to execute a full master’s program, because they’re time-consuming, prohibitively expensive, and support an institutional complex that I generally find contemptible. But I did stumble upon the idea of professional certificate programs.
Shopping around, the two that caught my eye were digital marketing at Georgetown’s School of Continuing Studies and digital politics and George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management. I thought either program could give my career the small kick it needed – learn some new skills, add a fancy East Coast school to the old resume, and expand my professional network.
But which would be better? Did I need to talk to a lot of alumni, check nationally regarded rankings, and prayerfully consider a pro/con list?
The challenge then wasn’t deciding which to pursue, but finding out how in the heck GW could justify its cost. Both programs are six classes from comparably fancy schools. How could one of them cost five times more than another?
The answer: GW’s was a for credit program, meaning I could apply the credits to a full master’s later, whereas all Georgetown offered was knowledge. More importantly, being for credit meant GW’s was open to federal financial aid.
Colleges raise their prices simply they can. They have a captive audience that needs to jump through their hoops to get access to most of the better jobs in the country, and a bottomless well of credit to finance it: Uncle Sam’s.
Educating students does not – really – get more expensive year after year, but since the government finances the cost, greedy college administrators can raise prices well above what the market would otherwise pay for. And thus we see the problem of a third-party payer system: the person paying isn’t really the person paying. Students are not the higher education industrial complex’s customer, they are its product.
This money gets funneled into increasingly expensive, mostly useless administrators’ salaries. University presidents get paid like CEOs. Marxist professors will teach students the importance of equality, but that’s a little more fun to lecture other people about it than practice it yourself.
This hypocrisy, which is borderline schizophrenic at this point, reminds me of the Stephen King quote that college professors are “liberals in their politics but crustaceans in their chosen fields.”
Private university presidents’ salaries rose 8.6% between 2013 and 2014, with 39 making more than $1 million, whereas public university presidents made only $464,000 on average. (Such a sacrifice!) Note that’s not even counting benefits like an in-house cook and an on-campus mansion.
To soften the blow, schools will say this kind of exorbitant compensation comes from “quasi-endowments” and “donor gifts,” which isn’t as bad as if it comes from tuition … but that still means these gifts are lining hypocritical administrators’ pockets and not helping students.
Gouging students at every step seems to be higher ed’s main goal, right up until the end: having to buy graduation robes is the final cash grab while students are on their way out the door. (They are also notoriously bad for the environment.)
In looking at the problem of student debt – which keeps young people from graduating on time, entering the workforce sooner, and buying a home earlier – the left’s solution will only make the problem worse. Total subsidy of higher education detaches both students and administrators from financial accountability, so costs will skyrocket and “professional students” will linger on campus even longer.
Higher education is the clearest example we have of harmful federal intervention, where the government is in for a penny but not a pound. If the government is going to subsidize as much of tuition as it does, then the government should enforce price controls.
Normally conservatives wouldn’t advocate for that kind of thing but the alternative is letting universities take advantage of Uncle Sam’s largesse to bankrupt students. The higher ed industrial complex doesn’t need more money, that will just make a bad system worse — it needs to be starved into reformation.
Jared Whitley is political veteran with 15 years of experience in media and Washington politics. He has served as press liaison for Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and associate director in the White House under George W. Bush. He is also an award-winning writer.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.