Phi Beta Cons

Too Many Colleges?

Yikes, let’s not do more central planning.

I respect Jeff Selingo, a former editor of the Chronicle of Higher Education, partly because he sees the potential for disruptive technology in higher education. (His book College (Un)Bound: The Future of Higher Education and What It Means for Students recently came out in paperback.)

But I’m disappointed. Maybe he doesn’t understand free markets, after all. In his latest Washington Post column, he expresses concern that the 5,300 colleges and universities that exist in the United States are too many. And he offers a solution:

What we need is a federal commission similar to those that have been tasked with closing military bases over the years. In the case of higher education, this commission wouldn’t just recommend colleges for closure, but it also could identify where mergers or alliances could produce the best solution for clusters of struggling institutions.

This is a terrible idea. Military bases are government entities, and the reason for the military commission was to prevent local political forces from protecting outmoded government-supported bases from efficiency cuts.

Yes, we may have too many colleges but there is absolutely no justification for the federal government deciding (or even recommending) whether private and state universities should be merged, affiliated, or closed. Please scotch that plan!

Jane S. ShawJane S. Shaw retired as president of the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in 2015. Before joining the Pope Center in 2006, Shaw spent 22 years in ...

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