Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Future of Government and Higher Education?

Many in the 'Occupy' movement are complaining about the burden of student loans that they have after leaving an institution of higher learning. Having completed a degree in English Renaissance Literature or Sociology (and not paid attention during those boring economics courses), they are only now discovering that their investment in higher education is not going to pay the dividends that the broker (Admission's Counselor) encouraging them to speculate led them to believe.

Now finding themselves so underwater on college loans that they will never be able to achieve the American Dream of being underwater on a mortgage, they (like many homeowners) look to the government for relief.  Like many in banks, auto manufacturers, and green energy companies, they would like some assistance to help them survive the piling of one bad loan upon another, in their own form of investment 'bundling'.  It is their contention that government's involvement and intervention is not only preferable, but essential.  Some even go so far as to say that government should provide such education as a 'right'.

(Am I the only one who's noticed that the group constantly asserting 'rights' are those on the 'left'?) 

While not normally being one for capitulating to the demands of those with little in the way of logic and reason on their side (evidently these too were courses mostly ignored).  There are times when one must seek a more compassionate perspective; and I am willing to expend the effort required to do so.

Oh I don't believe that these loans should be forgiven.  Personal responsibility is something that society should prize, and not allowing them the opportunity to accept responsibilities for past mistakes and pay back legitimate financial obligations would be doing them a serious disservice.  I am willing to concede (or accede, as the case may be) to their cries for government intervention in higher education if that is the path that they wish to take.  In fact, I believe that some of the proposals that progressives in both education and government have told us for many years have reaped great rewards in society as a whole should be used as a model of such intervention.

I therefore propose:

* Reducing or eliminating much of the funding in pure research at universities that sees no likely immediate return.  Like that done for defense or space exploration, most could be done away with in the name of attempting to maintain the costs of operation within reasonable growth percentile.  There should likewise be a National Research Board to strictly monitor and regulate what research is done and who will do it in the name of fairness. There's no point in having one university duplicate the research of another .... that's simply inefficient.  Ultimately we need to recognize that Professors are after all teachers; and teachers get paid to teach, not financed for working on a patent that could make them rich.  

* A National Board of University Departments would have to take control and come up with rules to cover the regulation of all university departments, their budgets, and even their necessity.  I'm sure that a mostly college-educated bureaucracy could come up with a set of guidelines in enough annoying detail for even the most prestigious of universities to be able to understand and follow.  Just as with research, it would be inefficient to have too many colleges too close to each other, duplicating the departmental offerings of others.  Certainly some form of government regulation could relieve some of this duplication and function in as efficient a manner as say, government regulated railroads.

* A National College Housing Authority will be needed institute rent controls for dormitories across the country.  Student housing is a classic example of people living on minimal (or even borrowed) income that need affordable housing.  It would not be fair to let universities take advantage of this need through market regulated pricing structures when so many are in need.  Additionally, universities should be mandated to provide low-income housing to any and all students that require it as a measure of egalitarian compliance.  Something will likewise have to be done in regards to food for these students, but that can be addressed by further regulation and bureaucracy after the housing issue is addressed. 

* Perhaps a National Tuition Board should be appointed as well.  Colleges like Princeton, Harvard, and Yale simply cannot be allowed to charge whatever extravagant prices for their offerings they choose, regardless of the services they offer or the potential advantages that a diploma issued by them provides.  To do so would hardly be fair to those to whom it's not available.  Of course it's possible that they could allowed to continue to charge what what the market will bear for their product (perish the thought), but only if no federal money in the way of grants, loans, subsidies, or funding in any way, shape, or form is provided to the university.  If even $1 is accepted by any part of the university, they too become subject to the rules of a faceless bureaucracy that probably graduated from far less grand institutions (and in the bottom half of their class)

* Of course, all of this leads to the logical conclusion that in fact a Government Board of Admissions would also be required.  You can't just have people taking government money for education and spending it wherever they chose.  A government regulatory board to apportion admissions to all universities using that money would be required.  Through the use of government efficiencies and 'mandated fairness' to determine the placement of students, a sufficiently egalitarian method of placement could replace the current unfair method of having them simply choosing a school based on its educational expertise, the pleasant nature of the campus, or whether the student feels that an education in such a place would be enjoyable.

You know, if we are going to in effect, nationalize higher education, perhaps professors should be put under government employment standards while we're at it.  Based on teaching ability, education, and testing, they would be granted government occupational pay levels or 'grades' University Administrators would likewise be given government ratings to provide an equitable level of compensation for all of those in salaried positions.  Of course such strict structures as the granting of 'tenure' or allowing paid leaves like 'sabbaticals' would need to be done away with, as they would hardly fall within existing federal employment guidelines and compensation plans.  Professors would however, have a government pension to look forward to; and at least be able to compete on a equal footing for advancement once they reach the 'full-performance level' of their existing position.

I can't help but wonder how many professors would be out in the quad protesting in solidarity with their students if such a double dose of of their demands were granted to them?  I wonder how many of those universities would allow them to do so if they understood that the strong arms of federal bureaucracy were about to tightly embrace them?  I wonder how many of those students would be protesting if they knew that new federal regulation and restriction on their choices was going to be the likely result?  Then again, perhaps among the other things that they have yet to learn is that with government funding comes government control.  But such would inevitably be the case for the future of government and higher education if those in 'Occupy' get their wish.

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