When asked what caused the rapid increase in the cost of education, Ms. Riley told me that it’s much like the health care system – third party payers. As federal aid has poured into the college system, tuition has soared. Unfortunately, the money hasn’t gone into the classroom, but has principally been spent on administrative growth. To be fair, universities are burdened with some of the same costly expenses that the rest of us suffer, and now must retain huge legal departments to deal with a plethora of issues and lawsuits, but that’s just a small portion of the bloat. An ever-increasing number of transient instructors now support the system while a major portion of the faculty spends its time doing research – much of which produces, at best, minor benefits. Ms. Riley observed that last year, 100 books were written by university professors on Shakespeare (who’s been dead for 400 years). Do we really need this? Does this really serve the purpose of the huge fees being paid by the customers?
Ms. Riley clearly articulates what the problem with college education is today. No one is in charge. There may be a president of the university, but he doesn’t control the individual departments, who independently determine who gets hired, who obtains permanent status (tenure), and if, when, where, and how much they interact with the customers (students). The professors are responsible neither to the CEO nor the customer, and, predictably, live in disdain for both. Can you imagine any tenured professor personally committed to addressing the needs and desires of their students simply because each of them paid $3,000 - $4,000 to take their class? And if you need proof that tenured professors have no respect for the CEO, just look at how they helped throw out Lawrence Summers, president of Harvard, for a comment that was insufficiently in line with their far-left dogma. College presidents end up doing three things: raising funds for new buildings, making sure the alumni are appeased, and hiring ever more administrators (over whom the President actually has some control).
This is a perfect socialist model: they create a product that doesn’t have to be responsible to customers, and the inmates run the asylum – and yet, they have America duped into accepting this scheme. When I asked Ms. Riley how they’re able to get away with this, she identified two reasons: first, there really is no alternative; and, second, in general, people feel good about universities. The Occupy Wall Street movement is demanding relief from student loans and blaming bankers, but you never see them excoriating their professors or the University for providing a useless degree, having thoroughly soaked the students (and their parents).
One solution proposed by Ms. Riley is to terminate the tenure system and get the professors back in the classroom, but that’s just the beginning. Americans need to grasp the magnitude of the problem and stop giving universities a blank check. When governmental leaders tell Americans about the importance of a college degree, they should also consider the outrageous cost being foisted upon their constituents. Why should the cost of college be increasing, as it is today, at four times or more than the rate of inflation?
We created this problem, principally by allowing these people to run roughshod over us. Alumni pour money into schools, demanding little accountability. Students protest everything from bad nachos to the killing of Osama Bin Laden, but don’t demand classes taught by credentialed adults instead of 23-year-old graduate students with no office and no office hours. Parents proudly boast that their kid goes to Highfalutin U, but never question the tuition bill. And, of course, President Obama and the Democrats go after private, for-profit schools while letting the “non-profit” universities get away with anything.
We’ve all played a part in creating this travesty. Now we must start to reverse it because serious ramifications are facing our country.