Phi Beta Cons

How the Department of Education has Made Higher Ed Worse

During recent testimony before a Senate committee, Professor Richard Vedder shocked one of the members, Senator Claire McCaskill, by saying that he favored the elimination of the Department of Education.

Unfortunately, we’ll probably have to put up with the Department for a long time. Democrats go apoplectic when someone suggests that we get rid of it and Republicans mostly roll their eyes because they have no stomach for a fight with the education blob. And it’s too bad that we’ll have to live with it. As Vedder argues in today’s Clarion Call, the Department makes higher education worse.

He starts with some fascinating history. Despite Jimmy Carter’s campaign promise to the NEA to create a Department for it and large Democratic majorities in both chambers, the bill barely passed. There was sensible opposition from such liberal organs as the New York Times.

But the bill passed, Carter signed it, and ever since we’ve endured federal meddling in education, both K-12 and higher. Vedder argues that owing to the Department, higher ed has been damaged: it costs far more, is more elitist, has much lower standards, endures more meddling from the accreditation cartel, suffers from a host of costly and counterproductive regulations, and lures in many students with its “college for everybody” propaganda.

“Summing up,” Vedder writes, “the Department of Education has had, so far as I can see, no positive impact on higher education and has eigther caused or ignored numerous negative effects. Thus it is a tragedy that the skeptics did not prevail back in 1979.”

I agree. Probably the best we can hope for at this point is that the next president will appoint a Secretary of Education who will follow a version of the Hippocratic Oath and at least do no more harm.

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

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