Op-Ed: Student debt isn’t the problem, it’s the higher education cartel | National


As far as he thinks about it, President Joe Biden probably expects to be canonized by millennials whose student loan debt he is reducing.

Depending on how the question is posed, however, the movement is not popular. In a Trafalgar Group poll released September 12, more than half of likely voters – 55.6% – and 64.6% of self-declared independents said they would be “less likely” to vote for someone who has backed Biden’s debt relief plan. Other polls showed the opposite sentiment.

In truth, however, the issue of student loan forgiveness is a distraction from the real problem of higher education. Tuition fees have been rising faster than inflation for decades. What no one wants to face, even as we continue to write off up to $1 trillion in student loan debt, is what has created the whole situation: the stranglehold that the higher education cartel has on colleges and universities.

The last person to seriously address this issue was William Bennett, when he was Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of Education. A study he commissioned found that tuition fees rose each year about as much as Congress increased federal aid for student education. It was never established whether this was an example of coincidence or correlation. Since then, media coverage has instead tended to suggest that too many young people, especially the poor and minorities, cannot afford to go to college.

It’s time to take another look. Mitch Daniels, the outgoing president of Purdue University in Indiana, managed to keep tuition flat (and under $10,000 a year) for most of his tenure. He is the exception, at least among the leaders of the Grandes Ecoles. The cost to attend most colleges and universities is skyrocketing, likely because so few people question “Big Ed” activities.

The cartel is working hard to keep everyone in line. Almost a year ago, the University of Austin (UATX) was founded to provide an alternative to the conformist wasteland of the modern American university. UATX’s ability to move forward depended, he said, on its ability to raise an initial $10 million – an amount later pledged by Headlands Technologies co-founder Matt Andresen. LLC., based in Chicago, and his wife Teri. That amount of money might just get the school started, but in order to challenge Big Ed, a much more fundamental problem will need to be addressed: accreditation, a process the cartel, with the support of the Department of Education, uses to controlling the curriculum of virtually all American universities.

UATX inexplicably announced that it would seek accreditation. Its founders and advisers must know that to gain accreditation they will have to compromise, if not outright abandon, the very things for which they created the school: to break away from the learning environment that can be found in most other colleges or universities. The threat of denial of accreditation is used to enforce intellectual and ideological conformity, revival, and censorship on campus. Even conservative icons like Hillsdale College and the Koch-funded Institute for Human Studies bow to the gods of accreditation.

A classical liberal arts learning environment cannot exist under the current accreditation regime. Until academics are brave enough to call it out for what a scam it is, maintaining intellectual freedom on campus depends on a few underfunded and little-known holdouts like Mount Liberty College. Utah, Gutenberg College in Oregon and the newly founded Thales. College in North Carolina.

If UATX insists on being accredited, it can never be the alternative to the overpriced and stuffy institution its founders envisioned. He will slowly but surely bow to the inevitable, becoming an accomplice in the plot that is killing the classics. And Matt and Teri Andresen will have seen their $10 million disappear.

Those who want to reform higher education must realize that they must break Big Ed before serious change can occur. And that means the abolition of accreditation, the bond that binds.

This article was originally published by RealClearEducation and made available via RealClearWire.

Peter Roff, a former columnist for US News & World Report, is affiliated with several Washington, DC public policy groups.

Gordon Jones is founder and faculty member of Mount Liberty College, where he teaches Civilization Development.

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