Earlier this month, the Robert Morris University Polling Institute released a survey on American attitudes towards higher education. Rather remarkably, only 31.5 percent of respondents believed that college was worth the cost today. College-educated respondents were considerably more likely to believe that college is worth it (35.1 percent) than non-college-educated respondents (22 percent), but the fact that two-thirds of college-educated respondents believe that college is now a bad deal ought to alarm higher education administrators and the policymakers who’ve helped fuel cost growth.
Reforming higher education is important on substantive grounds (upgrading labor force quality is important for productivity growth), but it also represents a political opportunity, as large numbers of low- and middle-income Americans are anxious about their own economic prospects and those of their children and improving the quality and accessibility of post-secondary options is an important way to address these anxieties. Yet Republicans have done a pretty poor job of talking, and more importantly thinking, about higher education. During the 2012 campaign, Rick Santorum clumsily suggested that President Obama was a “snob” for calling for a year of post-secondary education for all high school graduates — and that was pretty much all the GOP presidential candidates had to say about the subject, as far as casual observers were concerned.
Fortunately, there is a lot that conservatives can say about the subject — I discussed the virtues of Andrew Kelly’s work on the subject last week last week, and I think Kelly’s roadmap is exactly where the right needs to go.