Phi Beta Cons

Higher Ed Has Become Morally Bankrupt

In today’s Pope Center piece, Jesse Saffron writes that moral bankruptcy is undermining higher education. His inspiration for it was a recent Chronicle article about the party atmosphere at the University of Georgia, which he was familiar with as a youngster. While UGA’s buildings are as imposing as ever, the students seem to be increasingly interested only in the party life. Fewer and fewer students there (and at schools around the nation) are in college because they’re intent on truly studying anything. They look for the easiest courses and have no qualms about cheating to get through any course. Saffron correctly observes, “They’re not interested in academics; they’re interested in perfunctorily obtaining their diplomas and partying their way to graduation.”

Moral decay and academic decay spring from the same root. That root is the federal policy of trying to ensure “access” to higher education for almost everyone. The supposedly well-intentioned Higher Education Act with its manifold subsidies transformed higher ed. What had formerly been a good that a few Americans saw as worth striving for and saving to afford, was turned into a near entitlement, mostly paid for by government money and easy, cheap loans it made available to all. (That’s the same story as with the disastrous housing bubble.) Over time, the percentage of weak and disengaged kids who just want to have fun has steadily increased, and most colleges decided to accommodate their desires (watered-down courses, lax discipline, lush amenities) rather than risk losing tuition dollars.

Saffron closes by wondering if “higher education’s dark side will take control of the Ivory Tower.” It’s already far along.

George Leef is the director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

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