The out-of-control costs of higher education are one of many systemic problems that plague America, and it is one that I confess baffles me completely. I do not understand why tuition is so high and continues to climb. I do not understand why universities pay professors huge salaries for minimal teaching duties, and I don’t see what expensive buildings and beautiful surroundings have to do with education. I don’t understand why students pay outrageous sums to be educated then take trivial and absurd courses, like the now-cancelled Columbia University undergraduate course that was to consist of hanging out with the Occupy Wall Street gang to endear oneself with course’s OWS-loving professor.
Most of all, I do not understand the persistence of the myth that a college education can, does, or should qualify a graduate for good job, when it appears that a large percentage of students, if not a majority, leave the campus unable to write, think, or name the men on Mount Rushmore. Decades ago, as an administrator at major law school, I was shocked to discover that the school held remedial reading and wring courses for some first year students, one of them a graduate of Yale. Do you think the problem has improved since then? A college education in the U.S. is a poor and declining product that is over-priced and over-hyped, and I don’t understand why people are willing to go into debt to purchase it, and why the manufacturers haven’t cut costs, improved the product, and lowered the price.
Well, maybe I do understand. Like so many other problems, the reason for this one may be no more mysterious than the fact that those in charge are irresponsible, incompetent, and unaccountable.
This week brought the news that crews will begin demolishing the president’s house at the University of Maryland, and begin construction of a new 14,000-square-foot mansion that will cost the school at least $7.2 million. The palatial new digs for Maryland U’s president is being built in the midst of the university’s pleas for donors to contribute funds to rescue Maryland students who may be forced to drop out because of their family’s financial plights.
Meanwhile, the current president, Wallace D. Loh, has said that he will cut eight varsity sports teams in June to save an estimated $29 million over the next eight years. Do you understand this?
University officials have answered complaints about the exorbitant construction cost by arguing that the expenditure is necessary and will “pay huge dividends” by attracting the supporters and major donations needed because state funds make up less and less of the institution’s overall budget. Now I’m back to not understanding. I thought universities were about education, not building pretty houses. Why is where the president lives so central to fundraising?
The entire higher education culture is apparently off course and drifting into the rocks. There is no commitment to substance, just show. The degrees are meaningless; grades are inflated to justify the obscene tuition costs, and administrators believe, probably correctly, that donors care more excited about real estate than nourishing minds.
I understand this: university leadership that can argue without shame that spending over seven million dollars on the president’s home—and I don’t care how many fancy receptions will be held there—is more important than putting the money into teaching students has abandoned its commitment to education.
But I know what they’ll say.
“You don’t understand.”