Phi Beta Cons

Have It Your Way – But Not With My Money, Please

A penetrating article in The Wall Street Journal lists the many aggressive efforts mounted by colleges and universities over the years to prevent publication of meaningful data that would allow students to compare the effectiveness of one school over another. It is a depressing article, but it is illuminating and I recommend it.

The argument from the academy is that no “one size fits all” in higher education, and a college that is good for one student may not be a fit for another — and in any case, the government has no basis for making judgments on these highly personalized educational experiences.

To this, I say fine and dandy. I don’t really care what schools students attend or what they learn. Let them choose the college or university that does match their interests and abilities, and let the free market sort all of that out — just as it does for purchases of cars, houses and toaster ovens — all of which are purchased with the consumer’s own money, nobody else’s.

If colleges contend that government is no position to rate the effectiveness of schools, then how can they keep accepting the government’s (i.e, taxpayer) dollars to support schools that may or may not have value? Since we taxpayers (and the government that represents us) are not able to make these judgments, then we should withdraw from the equation altogether and let the students make the choices.

This is the fundamental contradiction that higher education is doing its best to ignore. If we eliminate federal economic distortion from the market, the schools that work well for  students are sure to survive. The taxpayers do not subsidize car purchases, and cars are bought every day. If a product is deemed worthwhile, people will find a way to pay for it. 

Vic Brown had a thirty-year career in the chemical industry with FMC Corporation, where he held senior positions and worked internationally in sales, marketing, manufacturing, information technology and procurement.

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