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Posts Tagged ‘Higher Education’

In Part I of this series, I shared a very amusing video from Bill Maher about how colleges and universities have become “luxury day-care centers.”

I then added some of my analysis to show that government subsidies – such as student loans – were the underlying problem.

Simply stated, colleges and universities increased tuition and fees so they could capture the value of the subsidies (as explained by Professor Daniel Lin back in 2012).

To make matters worse, they’ve been spending the money on more bureaucracy rather than anything that would improve educational outcomes for students (or generate spin-off benefits for the overall economy).

But “more bureaucracy” is an understatement. Here’s a sentence that I initially thought had to be satire.

But I’m not joking. This sentence comes from a jaw-dropping story about university bureaucrats trying to micro-manage student social life at Stanford University.

Here are the full details from the Wall Street Journal report, written by Douglas Belkin.

A recent headline in the Stanford Daily News student paper says: “Inside ‘Stanford’s War on Fun’: Tensions mount over University’s handling of social life.” Stanford has acknowledged the students’ complaints about their doldrums… Stanford has a long reputation as an offbeat party school for high achievers. …on campus, rules around parties dominate the conversation. Stanford began mandating students file an application two weeks ahead of a party including a list of attendees, along with sober monitors, students said. …The number of registered parties dwindled to 45 during the first four weeks of school this fall… Samuel Santos Jr., associate vice provost of inclusion, community and integrative learning within the Division of Student Affairs, says the school is working to address students’ concerns about Stanford’s social atmosphere. The party-planning process will be streamlined and more administrators will be hired to help facilitate student social life.

While this is an extreme example of bureaucracy run amok, it’s symptomatic of a broken system.

In an article for the Federalist, Rebecca Kathryn Jud and Chauncy Depree cite the spread of bureaucracy at a local university.

Over the past few decades, U.S. higher education has seen dramatic changes, few of which have been for the better. …We went to the website of a local public university and checked the office of the dean of the business college. The site identified the following vaguely titled and well-paid hangers-on: senior associate dean, associate dean for undergraduate programs, assistant dean for academic services, administrative specialist, technology and database specialist, marketing coordinator, assistant to the dean for finance and administration, senior major gift officer, and director of the Center for Economic and Entrepreneurship Education. This does not include the multitude of secretaries and assistants who support these dubiously necessary administrators. Nor does it include the deans for other colleges, the department heads, the office of the president, or any of the other administrative offices. Bear in mind, this expensive phenomenon is replicated across colleges and universities throughout the country.

And here are some excerpts from a 2020 column in Townhall by the late (and great) Walter Williams.

…college administrators assume that today’s students have needs that were unknown to their predecessors. Those needs include diversity and equity personnel, with massive budgets to accommodate. …Penn State University’s Office of Vice Provost for Educational Equity employs 66 staff members. The University of Michigan currently employs a diversity staff of 93 full-time diversity administrators, officers, directors, vice provosts, deans, consultants, specialists, investigators, managers, executive assistants, administrative assistants, analysts and coordinators. Amherst College, with a student body of 1,800 students employs 19 diversity people. Top college diversity bureaucrats earn salaries six figures, in some cases approaching $500,000 per year. …Diversity officials are a growing part of a college bureaucracy structure that outnumbers faculty by 2 to 2.5 depending on the college.

Fortunately, we have a way of solving all the above problems.

P.S. The mess in higher education is another example of what happens when politicians create a “third-party payer” problem.

P.P.S. Hillary Clinton was wrong on this issue and Joe Biden is wrong on this issue.

P.P.P.S. Given my libertarian sympathies, I also object to subsidizing folks who are hostile to economic liberty.

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I’ve only addressed academic bias one time and that was back in 2018.  So let’s thoroughly examine that topic today, starting with this video from Prager University.

Let’s now augment the video with some additional data.

First, let’s confirm that academics lean far to the left. Here’s how professors rate their own ideology.

Even economists lean overwhelmingly to the left, though not quite so bad as the other fields of study.

Meanwhile, professors of tax law overwhelmingly support class warfare, including really punitive policies such as higher death taxes, global minimum taxes for business, and more punitive taxation of capital gains.

By the way, I’m guessing that tax law professors oppose a consumption tax (like the value-added tax) for the wrong reason. They’re not against more revenue for politicians, just against higher taxes that don’t specifically target upper-income taxpayers.

Academic bias is a problem at Ivy League schools. As illustrated by this headline from a report about Harvard.

And this headline from a story about Yale.

But the problem is not confined to the supposedly elite colleges.

This story shows an overwhelming tilt to the left in the middle of the country.

Heck, it’s a nationwide phenomenon, as illustrated by the headline of this story.

I could share dozens of similar headlines (including data from the Legatum Institute showing similar bias in other nations), but let’s now focus on why this bias exists and whether it’s a problem.

In a column for the Foundation for Economic Education, Brian Balfour asks why academics are so sympathetic to statism.

…an overwhelming majority of university professors in America are on the political Left. A common response from leftists circulating to this reality is that “academics are liberal because that is the way intelligent people think.” …Intellectuals, according to Hayek, are drawn to utopian visions. First and foremost among those visions is the creation of a new social order, specifically one designed by “experts.” …In short, progressive intellectuals fancy themselves as radicals, desiring to overturn capitalism and traditional Western culture, with themselves at the helm. …For the ambitious among them, an academic career provides a rosy opportunity. …There is an inherent liberal bias favoring greater social control by the state among academics in part because it’s the only avenue academics have to become the social reformists they desire to be. …Finally, there is the role played by naked self-interest. Government subsidies and student financial aid make up a significant share of revenue for universities. Furthermore, government grants dominate funding for academic research. Academics reap financial benefits from government largesse. What a tidy coincidence that most academics favor big government.

There’s also an issue of self-selection bias.

In other words, smart kids on the right focus on business-oriented careers while smart kids on the left focus on academic-oriented careers.

Some of the research on this topic is discussed in this article for Inside Higher Ed by Scott Jaschik.

…professors’ political lopsidedness reflects self-selection… Gross and Fosse, and Catherine Cheng, a graduate student at the time, contributed to a 2010 book, Diversity in American Higher Education: Toward a More Comprehensive Approach (Routledge), that built on the theory of self-selection. Their research suggested that academics tend to form their views on politics early in life… Yet more evidence for the self-selection theory comes from a 2007 study, “Left Pipeline: Why Conservatives Don’t Get Doctorates,” by the husband-and-wife social science team of Matthew Woessner of Pennsylvania State University at Harrisburg and April Kelly-Woessner of Elizabethtown College. …They found that in both choices of majors and in personal values, conservatives seem to be taking themselves off the track for academic careers well before graduate school. The authors did not find evidence of statistically significant differences in grades or measures of academic performance… For starters, the paper finds that conservatives are much more likely to pick majors in professional fields — areas that tend to put students on the fast track for an M.B.A. (or for a job) more than a Ph.D. Only 9 percent of students on the far left and 18 percent of liberals major in professional fields, compared to 33 percent of conservatives and 37 percent of those who identify as being on the far right.

Now that we’ve established that there is academic bias, and also speculated on the factors that lead leftists to dominate higher education, let’s ask whether this is a problem.

I’m tempted to say yes because I don’t want students getting nothing but a Keynesian perspective when learning about economics.

But a biased education is just one potential problem. There’s also a quasi-totalitarian suppression of alternative views.

This left-wing groupthink in academia is not good for professors. I recommend this column in the Atlantic by Professor John McWhorter, but the headline may suffice if you’re pressed for time.

And this headline from another story in the Atlantic, this one by Conor Friedersdorf, shows that there’s a chilling effect on open discourse by students.

The problem even exists in secondary education, as captured by this headline from an article by Samuel Abrams in National Review.

I’m also worried about a decline in academic rigor.

We’ve all presumably heard horror storied about grade inflation.

But I think this data, shared in Psychology Today by Glenn Geher, is even more worrisome.

We designed a study with academics in mind. In short, we surveyed nearly 200 academics from around the US and asked them to rate the degree to which they prioritize each of the five following academic values:

  • Academic rigor
  • Knowledge advancement
  • Academic freedom
  • Students’ emotional well-being
  • Social Justice

Some highlights of the findings are as follows:

  • Relatively conservative professors valued academic rigor and knowledge advancement more than did relatively liberal professors.
  • Relatively liberal professors valued social justice and student emotional well-being more so than did relatively conservative professors…
  • Business professors placed relative emphasis on knowledge advancement and academic rigor while Education professors placed relative emphasis on social justice and student emotional well-being…

Our Discussion focuses largely on how these data are consistent with a highly politicized portrait of academia.

The bottom line is that professors are overwhelmingly on the left and such professors openly admit they are guided by social justice and emotions rather than rigor and knowledge.

That doesn’t bode well for America’s future.

So what is the solution?

There isn’t one, at least nothing that directly would solve the problem. I don’t want politicians telling professors what to teach. And I don’t want politicians imposing ideological quotas.

But there is an indirect step that might help. Get rid of taxpayer subsidies.

I’ve previously pointed out that grants and loans are bad policy because they lead to higher tuition and fees, as well as bureaucratic bloat.

But there’s also an ethical issue. As shown in this cartoon, taxpayers should not be coerced into financing bad ideas. Heck, they shouldn’t be coerced into financing good ideas, either.

I also think there are problems with the accreditation process, as well as the bias for college training over vocational training (see this excellent set of tweets by Oren Cass).

P.S. For a particularly horrifying example of leftist groupthink in action, watch these three videos.

P.P.S. Media bias is also an important issue (see here, here, here, here, and here).

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There’s a lot of speculation that we’re in the midst of a political realignment, with Democrats becoming the party of the rich and the Republicans becoming the party of the working class.

I don’t pretend to know whether this realignment is happening or what form it will take, but there is plenty of evidence that Democrats are focusing on policies that disproportionately benefit those with high incomes.

And those policies often are at the expense of ordinary people, which is an especially repugnant form of redistribution.

Their efforts to restore the state-and-local tax deduction are an obvious example, but they also favor other tax breaks that are utilized overwhelmingly by rich people.

They also favor big subsidies for higher education, which mostly benefit kids from well-to-do families (and well-paid college bureaucrats).

And now they want to provide another windfall for the college crowd.

Jonah Goldberg opines on this perverse form of redistribution in a column for the New York Post.

…a coalition of 236 progressive groups led by teachers unions called on Biden to cancel student debt on his first days in office. Biden himself has already urged Congress to cancel $10,000 as part of a pandemic relief package. Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have called for even greater debt forgiveness. Sanders’ plan would cost an estimated $1.6 trillion dollars. …Most Americans, especially most poor Americans, don’t have student debt, because most didn’t go to college in the first place. Moreover, most people who did go to college have no or very little student debt. …only 6 percent of borrowers owe more than $100,000. Virtually all of them borrowed so much because they attended graduate school. …do they deserve help more than truck drivers, mechanics or short-order cooks? One reason teachers unions — a huge source of donations and political organizing for the Democratic Party — want loan forgiveness is that teachers and administrators can boost their pay by going back to school to get advanced degrees. Other municipal and federal workers — another major constituency for Democrats — have similar rules. Using the pandemic as an excuse to reward workers who are far less likely to lose their jobs and more likely to find new employment if they do, seems awfully self-serving.

Writing last year for the Washington Examiner, Brad Polumbo argues for the principle of individual responsibility.

College is way too expensive, but nonetheless, most young people who are buried in student loans or struggling to pay off their debt only have themselves to blame. The average student is now graduating with $30,000 in debt…the median monthly payment is just $222. If you can’t afford that, as a college graduate, it’s probably your own fault. …If you chose to major in gender studies, French, or anything similarly impractical, it’s your own fault that you’re stuck with a lower starting salary and might struggle to make payments. That’s unfortunate, but it’s no justification for shirking your responsibility to pay back what you owe or asking taxpayers to bear the burden of your mistakes. …people who find themselves buried in hundreds of thousands in student loan debt have their own decisions to blame. …They chose expensive dream schools… To bail them out at taxpayer expense is to punish people who made responsible decisions and encourage recklessness from future generations. …to the millions of borrowers who’ve made terrible decisions, don’t ask for a bailout — it’s your own damn fault.

Some of you may be thinking that Polumbo’s argument made sense last year, but we’re now struggling with coronavirus-caused economic turmoil and perhaps debt forgiveness would help the economy.

But that’s not the case according to the number crunchers at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. They show that loan forgiveness isn’t “stimulus” even if one uses discredited Keynesian analysis.

…loan forgiveness…is the not the equivalent of sending $1.5 trillion of cash to households. …because borrowers often pay back their loans over 10, 15, or even 30 years, debt cancellation will increase their available cash by only a fraction of the total loan forgiveness. …Not only would loan cancellation provide relatively little spendable cash to households, but the cash it does offer would be poorly targeted from a stimulus perspective. …The majority of those most affected by the current economic crisis likely have little or no student debt. Over 70 percent of current unemployed workers do not have a bachelor’s degree, including 43 percent who did not attend college at all. …Indeed, about two-fifths of all student debt is held by households with graduate degrees. 

So if loan forgiveness isn’t the answer, are there any desirable policies?

Mike Riggs, writing for Reason, explains we need less government rather than more government.

…subsidies have…driven up the cost of education at a rate multiple times higher than inflation. …The most libertarian policy preference in my view is two-pronged: get the federal government out of the lending and guaranteeing game, and make student loan debt reasonably dischargeable in bankruptcy. These two policies would realign the incentives of colleges, lenders, and students to bring down prices and saddle fewer potential students with loans they are unlikely to repay.

Amen.

I don’t like loan forgiveness, but I do sympathize with many indebted students because when Uncle Sam started dispensing grants and loans, colleges and universities responded with dramatic tuition increases and then used the money to create fat, waste, and inefficiency.

Let’s end this column with some satire.

First, the geniuses at Babylon Bee produced this gem, which could be based on Jonah Goldberg’s column.

One local plumbing contractor, Sam Caughorn, is really looking forward to paying the tab on his neighbor’s $89,000 gender studies degree. …According to studies, there are millions of white girls working at coffee shops across the country while struggling under the crushing student debt they acquired by irresponsibly obtaining college degrees that gave them no marketable job skills. Benevolent politicians have proposed transferring all the wealth from trade workers and minority business owners to help indebted white girls with their student loans so they can still afford their daily latte and cat food expenses. Local gender studies major Amber White is looking forward to having all her debt forgiven, thanks in part to the contributions of plumbers like Sam Caughorn. …According to sources, Sam Caughorn owns a successful business he started right after high school. He also has 5 kids, a nice house, and serves as a deacon at his church. “I guess I can spare some change for poor disadvantaged girls like Amber,” he said. 

Second, here’s a cartoon that could be based on the column I cited from Brad Polumbo.

P.S. The way federal intervention has screwed up higher education is very similar to the way federal intervention has also made the health sector expensive and inefficient.

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I received my Ph.D. from George Mason University in Fairfax, VA, and I have very fond memories of that experience, including interactions with great economists such as James Buchanan and Walter Williams.

But not everyone has favorable views of GMU’s market-friendly program. There’s a group, UnKoch My Campus, that pretends to be horrified that the school has attracted contributions from philanthropists such as Charles Koch and David Koch.

In a column for the Washington Post, Steven Pearlstein opines about the ostensible controversy.

Thanks to a group of courageous and persistent students, George Mason University was recently forced to acknowledge that it had accepted millions of dollars from billionaire Charles Koch and other conservatives under arrangements that gave the donors input into several appointments at the university’s famously libertarian economics department. These arrangements violated traditional norms meant to insulate academic institutions from donor influence… The story fits neatly into the liberal narrative that the Koch brothers, Charles and David, have used their inherited oil wealth to fund the development of radical economic theories at Koch-funded universities.

At the risk of digressing before I even get started, I have to correct Pearlstein’s snide comment about “inherited oil wealth.”

The Koch brothers did inherit a valuable company, but they are not dilettantes with trust funds. They took a successful company and built it into an extremely successful firm. I wouldn’t be surprised if more than 90 percent of any contributions they make are a result of value they created.

Also, Charles Koch is a libertarian rather than a conservative.

Anyhow, back to our regularly scheduled program.

Pearlstein may have taken a cheap shot at the Kochs, but at least he doesn’t blindly parrot the leftist narrative.

…at Mason, the story is more complicated… I’ve been a professor at Mason. …I’m not a member of the economics department — they wouldn’t have me. But over the years, I’ve gotten to know and admire many of the economists there. For the most part, I have found them to be good economists and teachers, incredibly smart, intellectually honest and curious. …In the case of Mason’s economics department, the faculty have driven the donor relationships. In most instances, it was the faculty who approached and solicited Koch and other donors with specific projects in mind, not the other way around. …Our economics department is not libertarian and conservative because it is funded by Koch and his friends; they fund our economics department because its faculty is — and always has been — overwhelmingly conservative and libertarian. …rules and norms of university governance give faculty the power to hire people who think like they do. …Sorting by political or academic ideology is a naturally occurring phenomenon at universities.

Pearlstein suggests that university administrators should insist on more intellectual diversity.

The challenge is figuring out what to do about it. …It would have been better if Mason’s presidents and provosts had insisted on more ideological diversity in the law school and the economics department.

Perhaps there’s merit to that idea.

But if that’s Pearlstein’s goal, he should first focus on other departments at other schools. Because there’s an overwhelming bias in the other direction when looking at America’s system of higher education.

Here’s a report from Inside Higher Ed about some academic research by Mitchell Langbert, Anthony Quain, and Daniel Klein.

A new study…, published online by Econ Journal Watch, considered voter registration data for faculty members at 40 leading U.S. institutions in economics, history, communications, law and psychology. Of 7,243 professors total, about half are registered. Some 3,623 are Democrats while just 314 are Republicans. Economists are the most mixed group, with a ratio of 4.5 Democrats for every Republican. Historians as a group are the most lopsided, at 33.5 to one… There are also regional effects, with ratios highest in New England. …Women are much more likely to be registered Democrats, at 24.8 to one. Among men, the ratio is nine to one. …Brown University has the highest ratio for all five disciplines combined, at 60 to one, Democrat to Republican. It’s followed by Boston University (40 to one), Johns Hopkins University and the University of Rochester (both 35 to one), and Northeastern University (33 to one). The lowest ratio — that is, the most even mix of registered Democrats and Republicans — is at Pepperdine University, at 1.2 registered Democrats for every Republican. Case Western Reserve University is next, at 3.1 to one.

Here’s a chart from the report showing that economics is the most balanced discipline, but even in that field Democrats outnumber Republicans by a 4.5:1 margin.

Professor Langbert has some new research on this topic.

And, as pointed out in this report, the problem isn’t getting better.

An extensive study of 8,688 tenure-track professors at 51 of the 66 top-ranked liberal arts colleges in the U.S. published by the National Association of Scholars found that the ratio of faculty members registered as Democrats compared to those registered Republican is now a stunning 10.4 to 1. If two military colleges that are technically described as “liberal arts colleges” are removed from the calculations, the ratio is 12.7 to 1. …nearly 40% of the colleges in the study had zero faculty members who were registered Republican. Not a single one. Nearly 80% of the 51 colleges had so few Republican faculty members that they were statistically insignificant. …this trend toward an increasingly uniformly left-leaning faculty has spanned decades, both in the United States and Britain. “More than a decade ago, Stanley Rothman and colleagues provided evidence that while 39 percent of the professoriate on average described itself as Left in 1984, 72 percent did so in 1999,” Langbert writes. “They find a national average D:R ratio of 4.5:1.

Wow. University professors may be even further to the left than journalists.

Let’s circle back to the controversy at George Mason University.

The Wall Street Journal recently editorialized on the faux controversy.

Progressives dominate all but a few corners of American academia, but apparently they want it all. Witness the political and media assault on George Mason University, an island of intellectual diversity in Northern Virginia… an outfit called UnKoch My Campus…claims that donors like Charles and David Koch inappropriately influence university decisions. The demand is for “transparency” but the real goal is to silence conservative views. …Among the horrors supposedly uncovered by UnKoch is that one condition of these gifts was that George Mason rename its law school after Antonin Scalia. …The truth is that the naming request and decision went through normal university channels that included a vote by the university’s Board of Visitors, as well as the State Council on Higher Education for Virginia. …Donors are committing no crime in trying to judge if their philanthropy is fulfilling its purpose. The Kochs, God bless them, believe in supporting academics who believe in the principles of liberty and market economics. …Researchers from Stanford, Harvard and the University of Chicago Law School found last year that only 15% of American law school professors are conservative. We’re surprised it’s that many.

My two cents is that universities – either faculty and/or administrators – should be free to hire whoever they want under whatever rules they want. And students (or their parents) should be able to say no to schools that go overboard.

But here’s the catch. I don’t want to pay for any of it, either directly or via my kids. Let’s get rid of federal handouts for higher education.

The good news is that the no-subsidy approach also would reduce tuition costs since there no longer would be a third-party-payer problem.

Sounds like a win-win scenario.

P.S. My dissertation topic at GMU was Australia’s private retirement system, which was a clever decision on my part. Nobody in the United States at the time knew anything about the Aussie approach, which meant it was a) comparatively easy to make a contribution to the literature, and b) the professors on my committee didn’t know enough about the topic to nit-pick. Best of all worlds.

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