The Cancer That College Has Become

Bruce Bialosky

7/28/2013 12:01:00 AM - Bruce Bialosky

If you are a regular reader of this column you have been alerted to the problems of the current college system in America and some of the sources of the problems. As a parent of two children who recently graduated from well-known universities, I am as guilty as anyone of falling into the trap of believing that a college degree ameliorates all future problems for a student. We learn that one could suffer eternal damnation without said degree. That is obviously not true. College has created a system to insulate itself from the outside world when it comes to decisions about your children. Buyer Beware.

There is no doubt that college has become a significant problem in America. Our leaders run around and talk about Armageddon for those who do not go on to college. This is partially because the existing school systems do not adequately prepare students either for a career without a college degree or for the educational rigors of a sophisticated college-level education. Additionally, there has been a proliferation of useless degrees that prepare students for a career after college that can only exist within the confines of a college campus. There is no sign at the door of these departments warning students that their predecessors did not get jobs in those fields, and their hopes are just as bleak. It is truly caveat emptor -- which interestingly the faculty would ferociously dispute for the private sector. At the same time the costs related to college have soared 1,000% over the past 30 years as analyzed by economist Tyler Cowen, far exceeding the inflation rate.

A multitude of reasons have been given for the problems with college, but one has not received enough focus. Once you send your bright shining child to college, they all of sudden become “adults” on their own. To varying degrees as parents you get information back, but your rights to information are strictly limited. It is as if colleges have created their own HIPAA (medical records) law. Ask – but we don’t tell unless there is a release by your child.

We send our children to college to get educated and to facilitate that next step of growing up. Some of us have actually prepared them for the event. But they are not prepared to make all decisions. They can choose strawberry yogurt versus blueberry yogurt, but there are decisions that have deeper and more lasting resonance, yet they are on their own.

Not really; they have the aid of those charming people with nice titles and advanced degrees at the college of the student’s choice. Can you think of a worse group of people to be advising your budding young adult? My friend, Dennis Prager, thinks anyone who went from high school to college to grad school to working/teaching at a college campus is yet a child. They have never left the educational womb. He is pretty close, but it is also the chickens guarding the hen house.

Each person at the school has a financial motivation to uphold the good name of the campus. If kids are drinking themselves into a stupor, they don’t want to become known just as a party school unless that brings in more applicants and more dollars. If young women are being sexually accosted, the college is not playing up how frequently that occurs. The federal government requires colleges to do a study each year of the incidents related to students. It is as easy to find at a given college as is the detailed list of charges are before you enter a hospital. Unfortunately, it is even less helpful.

The bottom line is that we parents send significant dollars to these colleges and they have no accountability to us. If our kid is a boozer, they don’t have to tell us. If they quit school, they don’t have to tell us. If our kid is now a Selfhood and Social Interaction major, they don’t have to tell us. Just send us money – those many thousands of dollars.

Worse yet these young adults are being advised to encumber themselves with huge debts that will restrict their financial future. Does anyone at these colleges tell them not to do it? Do the kids really understand what having $50,000, $100, 000 or more of college debt means to them? Is there a major in the finance department – Advising Students on College Debt? You better not bet on that.

There is no doubt that colleges in the country add something positive other than college sports. But they are operating a scam that the Boys in Jersey would have loved to have thought of. These colleges are not as bad as people who prey on seniors citizens with phony financial programs, but at least the seniors can have their adult children intercede without a special dispensation and a secret password.

If that phony baloney board Elizabeth Warren set up (you know the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau) really wanted to do something, they would set up standards to protect students from being gouged by universities and protected from taking on ridiculous levels of debt. That is a trillion-dollar problem where people are being sold pipe dreams. Let us all live to see that happen. God knows we parents have no say.