Friday, October 11, 2013

Higher Education, Part IV

This is the fourth (final) part of a series related to higher education costs. (See Part I, Part II, Part III, and also check out the president’s speech offering to help that led to this long and emphatic “no thank you.”)
The original government interference in higher education is the refusal to allow businesses to use their own hiring policies. While I think IQ tests are limited in many ways—they fail to measure life experience combined with drive—they are significantly useful in predicting job performance in many fields. This is from 2002:
Cognitive ability tests represent the best single predictor of job performance, but also represent the predictor most likely to have substantial adverse impact on employment opportunities for members of several racial and ethnic minority groups.[1]
What happened was, it became “unconstitutional” for businesses to use an extremely useful colorblind tool in hiring decisions, because the results might end up appearing to be racist. So businesses found another way—they let higher education institutions do the IQ testing, and subsequent weeding out, for them.
As a result, getting an education at a premier university that would provide the same cachet as a high IQ score became the path to career success. And students were willing to pay a premium for that credential.
Costs for the coveted scarce commodity rose. Fewer students could work their way through college. So government stepped in to “help” with guaranteed student loans (which may not be low interest, and cannot be dismissed even in cases of bankruptcy or disability). More students with apparent financial ability to go to college meant greater demand for limited college admittance, which meant ever higher education costs. Current costs for a degree in many mid-range skills far outpace wages. The result is essentially indentured servitude.
Incidentally, schools are rated by the percentage of students they accept compared to how many apply—so they recruit so that they have more to turn away—which makes them more exclusive, literally, so they can then charge higher tuition. [I’ll refer you again to the Uncommon Knowledge discussion I mentioned in Part II.] Some of the ultimate schools, such as Harvard, take in so much money, they have literally billions of dollars in their permanent endowment fund. They could expand easily and offer the education to greater and greater numbers. Or they could provide full-ride scholarships to all their students for the next century—just off interest, without touching principal. But they don’t do that, because being exclusive, more than offering an excellent education for the next generation, is their business.
So now the president, who can do nothing about the third or half of high school students who fail to graduate, offers to step in to make sure everyone (sweepingly including the dropouts) gets a higher education. The premise is that a college education is the passport to a comfortable middle class lifestyle, and that should be available to everyone. It’s hard to argue with the “everybody should have the same opportunity” concept. But logic holds that there will always be a lower 50%; speaking it out of existence isn’t going to work. (I’m thinking of Lake Wobegon, where “all the children are above average,” even though that’s not mathematically possible.)
If you know how to translate the president, you know he doesn’t really care about basic fairness—or else he’d be in favor of the free market. Power mongers grasp opportunities to be the deciders of who gets access to a certain level of lifestyle.
If the government is “helping” to make higher education opportunities, then of course it will have an interest in what is taught and how. So that means greater control over accreditation. Accreditation now is done by private entities, but does indeed have a certain point of view. For example, an accredited law school is required to teach not only that Roe v. Wade is the law of the land but that it was a correct Supreme Court decision—even though hardly anyone believes that, including the liberal members of the current SCOTUS. Accreditation is not a guarantee of education quality; it is a controller of documentation used for granting or denying access to opportunities.
Having more government influence on accreditation and other markers of success can only lead to weeding out dissenting opinions. And that is likely the intent.
Government could also affect choices by limiting use of student loans to those institutions it approves, thus limiting choice.
I am not in favor of encouraging diploma mills. I am in favor of my own children, at this point, getting their degrees from good universities—because right now that is still the gate to certain career advantages.
But, unlike our president, I trust the free market. If businesses were allowed to make hiring decisions their way, and students were free to get their education any way they chose (probably a combination of guided university education and much free online study), then costs would dramatically drop. Then hard work, effort combined with good character would be the gateway to success—rather than agreement with a tyrannical, interfering government.

[1] Murphy, K.M., “Can Conflicting Perspectives on the Role of g in Personnel Selection Be Resolved?” Human Performance, 15(1&2):173-186 (2002).

No comments:

Post a Comment