From the Senate in the 1970s to the presidential campaign trail in 2020, Joe Biden has a long record of going where political pressures push him—and right now they’re pushing him aggressively leftward
Driving past a Philadelphia college now in swing, taking in its neoclassical buildings, million-dollar gym, and campus buzz, I think to myself: “How is the modern college like a drugstore gift basket?” The answer: packaging. Remove all the cellophane wrapping, plastic grass, and bonbon boxes, and you’ve got a buck and a half’s worth of candy. Price tag: $30.
How did we get to this place of overpriced packages with little substance inside? In The New School, Glenn Harlan Reynolds traces American higher education from its post–Civil War infatuation with the German model of a research university, in which publishing and prestige became the tail wagging the dog.
This brought a de-emphasis on the education of undergrads—except that they were needed for their tuition money. The debut of federal research grants and federal student aid after World War II made tuition less important—and people less sensitive about costs. Prices soared to meet the subsidies. All of which led to the bubble we have today. Price tag: $120,000.
Although they aren’t giving us much, we feel we need colleges for status insurance.
It would be one thing if the 120 grand were for skills an employer wants to pay you for after the commencement addresses are over. But behold the perfect storm of mushrooming costs and mushy courses: “Philosophy and Star Trek,” “How to Watch Television,” “Zombies in Popular Media,” “Queer TV Comedy Since Ellen Came Out.” Add to this a residual American snobbery toward the “trade school” idea of college as education in farming and mechanics, and you have a recipe for school-in-haste-and-repent-in-leisure.
A mile up the road from open classroom discussions on “Lady Gaga and the Sociology of Fame,” I am having my teeth fixed at the university’s dental clinic. I count as many as three dentists fussing over me at one time in a foreign language that is English. It restores my confidence to be in this different country where words have referents in the real world and are not just blowing smoke.
Meanwhile, back at the educational mirage 10 blocks south of my dentist chair, lemmings purchase the “college experience” on cheap credit because everyone else is doing it so it must be OK, and because the myth persists that a diploma is a ticket to prosperity. Lamentations 1:9 says no one considers his future. Or that the cost is 439 percent more than in 1982 and growing at four times the rate of inflation. Or that the product is dubious and the Gaga books can be read at home for free.
Where is the money going? Not to faculty. When I was 18, colleges had more professors than administrators. Now it is reversed.
Political commentator Heather Mac Donald writes that the University of California diversity machine “includes the Chancellor’s Diversity Office, the associate vice chancellor for faculty equity, the assistant vice chancellor for diversity, the faculty equity advisors, the graduate diversity coordinators, the staff diversity liaison, the undergraduate student diversity liaison, the graduate student diversity liaison, the chief diversity officer, the director of development for diversity initiatives, the Office of Academic Diversity and Equal Opportunity, the Committee on Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Issues, the Committee on the Status of Women, the Campus Council on Climate, Culture and Inclusion, the Diversity Council, and the directors of the Cross-Cultural Center, the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Resource Center, and the Women’s Center.”
Even as state and local aid dries up, the powers that be will be loath to kill these diversity sacred cows.
The Catch-22 is that although they aren’t giving us much, we feel we need colleges for status insurance. Even that wears thin, however, when many college grads don’t have a job, at least in the field they want. But what if we rethought college entirely? What if we didn’t take it as automatic? What if we refused to go into debt? What if we recovered the biblical value of manual labor and crafts? What if the jobs of the future will be based on on-the-job training? As author Glenn Reynolds says, “If you want your toilet fixed, it can’t be done by somebody in Bangalore.”
What is not sustainable will not be sustained. It’s all fun and games now; but when houses are make-believe, they will not keep out the rain. And indications are that it will be raining presently.