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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Sad State Of A College Education

“The Philosophy in the school room in one generation becomes the philosophy of government in the next.” — Abraham Lincoln

You can ask any pig farmer how to catch a wild or free hog and he will give you the following response. First you park and old car in a field and put out some food for the hog. The hog will come and eat the food and then leave. Next you place another old car at ninety degrees to the first and place some more food for the hog. The hog will once again come and eat the food. The third step is to place a third old car forming an open ended square and once again place food for the hog. The hog, now feeling comfortable with the arrangements will come into the square to get the food. Once the hog is in the square you pull in a car to close he square and you’ve got yourself a hog in a pen.

What does this have to do with the state of a college education? Everything. The students and parents are the hogs and the colleges, with the help of the government are the hog farmers. The colleges park the old cars and the government provides the food for the hogs. This food is called student loans. Once the parents and students are trapped in the pen they have little or no choice but to comply with the wishes of the colleges for higher and higher tuitions and then squeal like a trapped pig. It is the squealing we are hearing from the college students now — the squealing Obama is pandering to.

Leftists are to be judged only by a promised future, never by the present or2012-04-27-digest by what has been delivered. Case in point: student loans. With student loan interest rates set to double in July to their normal, un-subsidized rates — thanks to legislation passed by Democrats in 2007 — Barack Obama is pushing to extend the current level of federal subsidy as part of his re-election campaign. For his part, Mitt Romney agrees. And why not? Neither are listening to Tea Party complaints that this is not government's role. In any case, the U.S. is nearly $16 trillion in debt, and it can't afford to subsidize student loans.

If insanity is doing the same thing again and again but expecting a different outcome, then the federal government's strategy for keeping higher education affordable is crazier than Norman Bates.

For decades, American politicians have waxed passionate on the need to put college within every family's reach. To ensure that anyone who wants to go to college will be able to foot the bill, Washington has showered hundreds of billions of dollars into student aid of all kinds — grants and loans, subsidized work-study jobs, tax credits and deductions. Today, that shower has become a monsoon. As Neal McCluskey points out in a Cato Institute Policy Analysis, government outlays intended to hold down the price of a college degree have ballooned, in inflation-adjusted dollars, from $29.6 billion in 1985 to $139.7 billion in 2010: an increase of 372 percent since Ronald Reagan's day.

Most of that prodigious growth is very recent. The College Board, which tracks each type of financial assistance in a comprehensive annual report, shows total federal aid soaring by more than $100 billion in the space of a single decade — from $64 billion in 2000 to $169 billion in 2010. (The College Board's data, unlike Cato's, includes higher-education tax credits and deductions.)

And what have we gotten for this vast investment in college affordability? Colleges that are more unaffordable than ever.

Year in, year out, Washington bestows tuition aid on students and their families. Year in, year out, the cost of tuition surges, galloping well ahead of inflation. And year in, year out, politicians vie to outdo each other in promising still more public subsidies that will keep higher education within reach of all. Does it never occur to them that there might be a cause-and-effect relationship between the skyrocketing aid and the skyrocketing price of a college education? That all those grants and loans and tax credits aren't containing the fire, but fanning it?

Historian Victor David Hanson writes in his article Decline or Decadence:

If our students are burdened with oppressive loans, why do so many university rec centers look like five-star spas? Student cell phones and cars are indistinguishable from those of the faculty. The underclass suffers more from obesity than malnutrition; our national epidemic is not unaffordable protein, but rather a surfeit of even cheaper sweets. Flash mobbers target electronics stores for more junk, not bulk food warehouses in order to eat. America's children do not suffer from lack of access to the Internet, but from wasting hours on video games and less-than-instructional websites. We have too many, not too few, television channels. The problem is not that government workers are underpaid or scarce, but that so many of them seem to think mind readers, clowns and prostitutes come with the job. An average American with an average cell phone has more information at his fingertips than did a Goldman Sachs grandee 20 years ago. ... In 1980, a knee or hip replacement was experimental surgery for the 1 percent; now it is a Medicare entitlement. American poverty is not measured by absolute global standards of available food, shelter and medical care, or by comparisons to prior generations, but by one American now having less stuff than another."

Last week, the total amount of debt emanating from student loans in the U.S. reached $1 trillion. With the Great Recession still present in the daily lives of the middle class, salaried jobs for college graduates are tough to come by.  Many have had to settle for low-wage positions stocking shelves in retail stores or serving coffee at the local Starbucks. According to the Associate Press, three out of five new graduates are unemployed.  The dissatisfaction these bachelor's degree-holders have with the lack of jobs manifested into last fall's Occupy movement. Many "occupiers" naively directed their anger at capitalism and corporate greed as the bills came due for loan payments.

All the while, the institution from which they sought salvation is plotting to tighten the shackles of dependency.

This July, the temporary freeze on interest rates for college loans is set to expire. The rate, currently capped at 3.4%, is expected to jump and cost grads at least an extra $1,000 a year. President Obama, in a desperate attempt to reaffirm his "cool" credentials among college students, campaigned on university campuses in a few swing states to rile up the bully pulpit to push Congress toward passing an extension of the rate cap.

How the president's base of student supporters don't realize that their tax dollars finance Obama's trip to their campuses for political photo-ops says a great deal about their critical thinking skills.

This is to be expected, however, since many economic departments are staffed with neo-Marxists, who often describe themselves as Keynesians. Because of a lack of knowledge on how free markets work to lower costs through competition, many students have come to accept ever-increasing college tuition as an indisputable reality. Going into debt by an average of $26,000 is assumed to be the price to pay for an education. In a recent Huffington Post editorial, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan perpetuates this myth. He writes:

We all have a role to play -- the President, Congress, parents, students and schools in making college affordable and keeping the middle class dream alive. Our Administration is continuing to do its part: despite being in one of the most challenging budget environments in history and cutting almost all-domestic spending across the board, President Obama is increasing the investment in higher education.

The Obama Administration is providing billions of dollars a year in aid to needy students through Pell grants and helping students to better manage their debt after graduation with programs like income-based repayment and public service loan forgiveness. The President is also proposing a number of initiatives that would continue to make college more affordable, including doubling the number of work-study jobs within five years; making the American Opportunity Tax Credit permanent; and providing new incentives for states and institutions to keep college costs from escalating.”

Common sense says that if you subsidize anything, you get more of it. Pay people not to work, and they generally won't seek employment. And giving students increased access to financing their way through college via debt offers no incentive for colleges to lower tuition costs.

Guaranteed loans for higher education are merely a ruse to buy votes from naïve students. The steady stream of funding ends up being passed on to pay for the electoral support of the unionized left-wing professors and administration. Meanwhile, the president is slowly driving to make college attendance necessary. Duncan admits as much:

“A postsecondary education is the ticket to economic success in America. We know that the jobs of the future will all require some kind of education or training after high school.”

Contrary to popular belief, the state's intervention into and monopolization of education has nothing to do with angelic motives. As college is incrementally being pushed to be the next mandatory step after high school, the real goal is to keep young minds infatuated with the state. As Freedom Daily editor Sheldon Richman points out:

“the purpose of public education is not to aid in the development of a learned populace, but to produce unthinking workers. Based off the educational system of 19th-century Prussia, America's public schools were originally designed to condition children toward a sense of "obedience, subordination and collective life."

The goal was compliance, never enlightenment.

The progressive movement has been successful at turning public schooling into an unquestioned sacred cow. If you disagree with the idea that government should have any control over education, you are automatically accused of desiring an ignorant population. This is why home-schooling and attendance at private, parochial schools are subtly referred to within the mainstream media as backwater methods of learning.

How dare children be taught in an environment where Washington isn't looked to as the great provider?!

Creating an orderly citizenry incapable of critical thinking makes sense for the ruling class of masterminds. Control and order are the bread and butter of the state. Creative intelligence poses a challenge to central planners. It makes it harder to tug at the marionette strings.

In a recent Indian Supreme Court decision over a piece of controversial educational legislation, the dissenting judge in the case cited, of all people, libertarian economist Murray Rothbard on the evils of government education. He writes:

“Mr. Murray N. Rothbard, an eminent educationist and professor in economics, in his book, "Education: Free and Compulsory," cautioned that progressive education may destroy the independent thought in the child and a child has little chance to develop his systematic reasoning powers in the study of definite courses. The book was written after evaluating the experiences of various countries, which have followed free and compulsory education for children for several years.”

Such facts are unpopular with both presidential candidates because — so the line goes — they will alienate a host of young voters who could decide the election. Incredibly, both the White House and Senate Democrats want to pay for the $6 billion, one-year extension with — wait for it — yet another new tax on small businesses. House Republicans propose to do it by using one of Obama's slush funds (more on that below).

The "promise" of student loans is that they enable a large segment of society that allegedly could not otherwise attend college for lack of the means to do so. The problem with this guarantee — as with any leftist utopian promise that makes first contact with reality — is that it produces exactly the opposite of its pledged result. Government-backed student loans are the overwhelming reason tuition costs have risen almost 400 percent since 1982, notwithstanding the recent claims of Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

In fact, student loan debt has surpassed credit card debt in America. The average debt is $25,000, with overall debt topping $1 trillion, and college graduates are now suffering the highest unemployment rate in 11 years. Costs for college generally are much higher than they would be were they not inflated by student loan subsidies, and market distortion wrought by these subsidies has at least in part contributed to an oversupply of certain types of college graduates: ones with unmarketable skill sets.

Sacrificing what was sure to be another important golf outing, Obama deigned to take time from his busy schedule to slander Republicans over the issue. Painting Republicans as student-haters, he asserted, "We cannot just cut our way to prosperity." In one sense, he's correct: $6 billion is a drop in the bucket when compared to the more than $5 trillion in debt racked up in his first three years. Furthermore, the loan subsidy extension, including all of its exceptions and caveats (it applies only to loans directly borrowed from the federal government; only to the sub-segment of those loans that are the so-called "Stafford Loans”; and only to new borrowers, not to those currently enrolled) amounts to some borrowers saving roughly $7 per month. Of course, the real purpose of the extension proposal is to buy votes.

That said, we must "cut our way to prosperity." Both tax and spending cuts will be needed, not merely to put more money in the pockets of Americans, but to starve the ravenous beast that is the central government.

This is the same Obama who, as a senator, was missing in action when the loan subsidy came up for a vote on the Senate floor — twice. Now, of course, extending the program is a "top priority." The sad truth is that the president's student loan subsidy plan is just one small part of a gigantic fiscal iceberg to our Titanic national debt. Spending is killing our nation and it has to stop, or we will quickly find ourselves in the company of Greece, Ireland, Portugal and a host of other European nations.

The more children are indoctrinated with the belief that the state is the cure for all of society's ills, the more likely they are to vote for those politicians who seek to regulate everything from proper light bulb wattage to how much fluoride drinking water should contain.

College is just the next step in this process as young adults graduate high school and continue their brainwashing for another four to five years. These students believe they are getting an education when in actuality they are learning how not to rock the state's boat and how to regurgitate test answers after a long night of binge-drinking.

The goal behind stalling the jump in interest rates is not to help students. It is to continue the cycle of union payoffs, campaign kickbacks, and fostering a learning environment where government decrees go unquestioned.

The irony is that a valuable lesson in teaching the real price of an education is being missed. Subsidizing degrees in unpractical subjects such as English literature or gender studies results only in more such degrees being issued. Students then graduate with just as much work-related skills as they had on their first day as freshmen. Between lectures on the evils of capitalism and on the greatness of Franklin Roosevelt, out-of-the-box thinking is never encouraged.

It therefore shouldn't be surprising that Mark Zuckerburg, Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs were all college dropouts. The fact that their creative thinking wasn't a byproduct of the college industrial complex is a real lesson in itself.

The sad truth is that when Congress does what it does best and spends billions passing an extension on the student loan interest rate cap, the establishment will rejoice as the scheme is allowed to continue.

But millions of potential visionaries will be the real cost.

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