Reforming Higher Education: Six Principles

While many argue for the abolition of the Department of Education, this writer believes it has a role to play only with respect to higher, or post-secondary, education.  That is, it needs to get out of K-12 education and allow that task revert back to the states.  Instead, it should be reformed to take into account today’s realities and labor force needs.  Towards those ends, this writer suggests the following six principles.

 Prepare the Graduate for the Workforce

Sometimes, a bachelor’s degree fails to prepare a student for the workforce.  Instead, they are steered towards a liberal arts education that often results in future retail cashier jobs.  Instead, the government should “reward” students who enter fields with a BA in needed job categories.  For example, if we need accountants in Ohio, the accounting majors get the reward.  Conversely, if we need plumbers and electricians in Oregon, a two-year associates degree and apprenticeship should be rewarded.

Note that a liberal arts education is not taken away and can even be financed, in whole or part, by government-backed loans provided the graduate learns a necessary skill or occupation.  Again, that necessary skill, training or occupation must be something practical that the student can then carry into the workforce.

 Get Politics Out of Post-Secondary Education

More specifically, political correctness.  Political science majors are popular and needed if for no other reason to teach civics to college students who are woefully shorted in this area in K-12 education.  The problem is not the political science major; the problem is the proliferation of the plethora of “studies” majors now offered.  It appears that any minority group with a grievance- legitimate or not- now has a specialized “studies” department or major.  The average graduate with a degree in Black Studies, Hispanic Studies or Queer Studies is prepared for exactly three jobs after graduation: (1) organized protester, (2) a minimum wage job, or (3) unemployment.

Further, anything taught in these areas can easily be taught in an existing department like history, sociology, political science, or economics.  Four years in indoctrination into victimology should not be a goal of higher education and financing these majors by the government should be discontinued.

A College’s Job is Education, Not Activism

The purpose of college is to educate the graduate for the workforce for the betterment of society.  As such, a college’s administration should be free from political activism, or at least any college that receives government funds in any form.  As private citizens, administrators, faculty and even students are free to be active in any political cause they deem necessary.  But, it is not a college’s job to take sides on any issue.

Two perfect examples are climate change and the BDS movement against Israel.  In both instances, colleges are making politically-motivated choices when they invest funds rather than economically-motivated reasons.  When alumni donations are invested, the primary motive should be fiduciary, not political and if that means investing in Exxon-Mobil rather than Solyndra, then so be it.

Too often we see faculty and administrators pushing their political views and agendas into the classroom.  They hold a serious advantage in this area.

Transparency and Fairness

The current system of retaining faculty and administration in higher education is arguably the worst of any industry in the United States.  Whether we are talking about peer review, the amount of material published, or the amount of grants received, the system is self-perpetuating.  Getting an article published in some obscure academic journal is treated more favorably than whether that member of the faculty is a good teacher, or whether their graduates actually enter a field for which they are supposedly qualified after 4-6 years.

Rewarding schools that place graduates in their field of study within a specified period of time or, conversely, punishing those that fail to do so would go a long way to achieving the first principle listed above.  How would it work?

College A graduates 10 accounting majors and College B graduates 10 such majors in a single year.  After three years, seven of the ten graduates from College A are employed in an accounting field while four from College B are thus employed.  Obviously, College A did a better job of preparing their graduates than College B and should be rewarded while College B should be “punished” until they show improvement in post-graduate employment.  This can be implemented because colleges keep records on these things.

 Eliminate Tenure

First, tenured faculty is dying a natural death anyway.  Second, tenure is not based on success of graduates, but rather on peer-review and number of articles or books published.  Third, most of the actual teaching in four-year colleges today is done by part-time adjunct and non-tenured faculty.  Fourth and most importantly, tenure at the higher education level was established to ensure academic freedom in the classroom.

Today, academic freedom means not an open discussion or dialog of various opinions and ideas, but submitting to the predominant politically-correct pablum of the Left.  Since there is no academic freedom per se, there is no need for tenure.  The Left has essentially taken over higher education by, ironically, suppressing academic freedom in the classroom and on campus.  OK- they won, so there is no need to tenure.

 Control Costs

The cost of a 4-year degree is staggering, even for many public state colleges.  When you throw in the cost of room and board, the figures grow even more staggering.  Unfortunately, many colleges, besides receiving state support, also charge high tuition fees, student fees and a host of other charges, not to mention the biggest rip-off known to any college student- the cost of textbooks.

Some of these student fees go to cultural affairs and events that can be better funded by either private organizations or student fundraising.  Every college today has some department dedicated to affirmative action, diversity, handling harassment complaints, etc.  In many cases, the offices are duplicative.

Besides tuition, colleges also receive grants.  If they are federal grants, then they should be rewarded only to those institutions that have taken steps to educate students for their chosen field through demonstrated performance and who hold the costs to students down.  Fixed price tuition is an option where an entering class is charged the same tuition for their four years.  Anything beyond four years results in a higher tuition.

Of course, private colleges should be free to do as they please.  But, they should not be rewarded with research grants from the federal trough either.  A state college can do just as adequate a job on a research project as someone at Harvard or Yale.  Private businesses are free to contract research grants with anyone.

By instilling a little bit of the free market and having the government work against the financial support of the higher education cartel, perhaps downward pressure on college costs can be achieved without the rhetoric of a Bernie Sanders.  A college education is not a God-given right and never was.