America’s Universities: A Lack of Accountability and Transparency

I am always amazed at the lack of self-examination by the liberal/progressives to determine whether they walk their talk or spend an inordinate amount of time trying to explain why the standards that they demand of others should not apply to them. One of the most recent examples are the law suits by Asian American students against the Ivy League colleges alleging that higher admission standards are required of Asian American students than all other students.

These bastions of “liberal/progressive thought” have for decades demanded a color-blind society, have railed against discrimination in any form and have lectured about the advantages of a meritorious nation where one is not limited by the color of his skin. (These intellectual myopics would consider the previous sentence grievously sexist since it uses the masculine “his” as the gender-neutral singular form of “theirs.”) They do not deny the fact that they have higher admissions standards for Asian Americans but argue that they can discriminate in order to achieve a racial balance – the end justifies the means. That is the moral equivalent of the army noting during the Viet Nam War that you may have to destroy a village to save the village. But it is always that way. When the left is caught violating the standards demanded of others they deem it permissible because their cause is more noble than your cause – or mine. But the result is always the same – a deserving person is denied an opportunity because what liberal/progressives want is more important.

In the end, I predict that the new, more traditional Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) will side with the Asian American students and find that racial neutrality is the only course that can assure equal protection under the law.

So it should come as no surprise that the principle opponents of educational reform are the academicians and the teachers unions right behind them. The Wall Street Journal reported last Friday on a new initiative by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to require public and private academic institutions provide information on their costs of education along with the earnings of students after graduation. And the academicians are screaming like someone had asked them to swim naked in the Delaware River in January. The WSJ reported on last Friday:

“The requirements are designed to offer an unprecedented look at the debt and earnings of students after they graduate. Many colleges already post campuswide debt and income averages for graduates. The new rules will drill deeper by major from English to engineering.”

And continued:

“The plan is drawing stiff opposition from colleges – which have spent decades fighting transparency effort – citing the costs of data collection and student privacy concerns. Colleges also argue that the financial return on a degree is just one measure of success.”

The striking thing is that these same academicians and college administrators were fully supportive of similar standards when applied by President Barack Obama’s administration on for-profit colleges in attempt to drive them out of business.

But let’s get by the hypocrisy of the left in this regard and look solely at the value of the proposal by Ms. DeVos and her Department of Education. At the end of your education, everyone finds themselves in the same boat – they need to get a job. In theory – but not necessarily in practice – your education is supposed to prepare you for getting that job. We have been told for at least fifty years that a college education is necessary to find a well paying job. The problem with that advice is that having a college education does not assure you a well paying job.

A good paying job depends on two important factors – the demand for the product (tangible or intangible) that you or your employer provides and the skill you provide in producing that product. The only places where those factors do not apply are academia where neither the demand for the product nor the skills of the producers are critical. For instance, the University of Oregon has a broad swath of “schools” for its student and within those schools are a broad swath of “majors” in which you can obtain your college degree. (Trust me I am not picking on the University of Oregon – to the best of my knowledge it is a very good college and we have family who are graduates of it – it is just close by and the “schools of study” are readily available to examine.)

Among the schools and degrees that one can pursue are Art History, Greek and Latin studies, Dance, Folklore, and Medieval Studies. The point here is that these fields of study have very limited applications outside of academia – the demand for these educational backgrounds, particularly in private enterprise, is limited. For instance the University of Oregon’s Folklore program has between 15 and 20 students for which folklore will be their major and another fifteen students who may take a minor in the program. To service this program there are approximately fourteen dedicated faculty and twenty-four participating faculty. The small student enrollment and the significant number of faculty would suggest that this is a program for which there is limited demand and most of that demand is created by other teaching institutions so they can offer similar programs.

According to College Simply the annual cost to attend the University of Oregon is about $25,800 which makes it one of the best bargains among major universities in the nation. Thus a four-year degree costs a minimum of about $103,000. What I cannot find is what the average graduate of the Folklore studies program earns. And that is precisely the point.

According to NerdWallet, the average federal student loan rate is 5.05% and the average timeline for repayment is ten years after graduation. That puts the monthly payment to amortize your loan at just about $1,100 per month or $13,200 per year. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the average worker without a college degree earns about $39,500 per year. Which means that the average Folklore graduate from the University of Oregon would have to earn at least $52,800 to make his degree pencil out. (There I go again using the masculine “his” as the gender neutral singular for the plural “their” – I can’t help if seventy years of education and usage sticks with me.)

But unless you know with some particularity what the Folklore graduate makes annually you cannot calculate the wisdom of your investment in that degree. And that is precisely what Ms. DeVos’ proposal does – it provides the requisite information at a “field of studies” level so that the student and/or the one paying the bills can make that informed judgment.

In previous columns I have criticized the concept that everyone needs a college degree and more importantly the resulting diminution of the value and availability of vocational training in the high schools and the community colleges. A survey of publications providing income information indicates that a variety of trades and professions that do not require a college degree or the $103,000 educational cost, provide good incomes.  Over the road truck drivers make between $40,000 and $90,000 (some with healthcare benefits), carpenters between $45,000 and $62,000, insurance agents about $48,000, welders between $37,000 and $57,000, electricians between $54,000 and $68,000, and Plumbers between $48,000 and $63,000. (In each instance an employee can start his own business and earn significantly more – not so with the Folklore graduate.)

I do not mean to suggest that fields of study such as Folklore should be eliminated; rather I suggest that with transparency as suggested by Ms. DeVos, students and/or those who pay the bills could make an informed choice as to whether to participate in that field of study.

As long as colleges and universities keep hiding the true value of a college education, we will keep sucker punching another generation about career choices. Whether you like Ms. DeVos or President Donald Trump, they are doing the right thing and they ought to be applauded for doing so.