Posts Tagged ‘College Tuition’

College tuition and the anti-radical backlash

May 5, 2022

Will Bunch, a writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer, links the high cost of college education today to the conservative backlash against the student protesters of the 1960s.  Here is his argument.

The 1944 G.I. Bill signed by Franklin Roosevelt included a free college benefit almost as an afterthought, since academic and political leaders thought that most returning troops wouldn’t be “college material,” in an era when only 5% of Americans earned bachelor’s degrees and a majority didn’t finish high school.  Instead, the mostly working-class G.I. Bill recipients stunned the nation both in their large numbers and their devotion to taking classes. It was the start of a virtuous cycle that flowed into the unprecedented prosperity of the 1950s and the booming birth rate. By 1960, the rate of American youth heading off to college had skyrocketed six-fold to 31%

Kent State shooting

Yet this new American ideal of college wasn’t just a numbers racket. In the mid-20th century, the nation had emerged from a Great Depression, two world wars, and the arrival of the atomic bomb.  Thought leaders wondered if the concept of liberal education — geared toward developing critical thinking and not just rote career training — could steer America away from fascism, communism, and nuclear war.

Young Americans in the 1950s and ‘60s embraced this idea. Enrollment in the humanities and social sciences soared. In one 1969 survey of freshmen, 82% said what mattered about college wasn’t career training but “developing a meaningful philosophy of life.”  But for America’s so-called Establishment, the problem was what CIA agents would later label “blowback.”  Young people trained to venerate democracy and employ critical thinking turned their focus to America’s own hypocrisy — its senseless militarism in Vietnam, and racial apartheid in the Deep South, among other issues.

Top officials seemed less worried about the uproar at elite campuses like Columbia and more concerned about radicalism at the massive state universities —Berkeley or New York State’s university at Buffalo — that had exploded with working-class kids taking advantage of low (or free) tuition. They also nervously eyed rising enrollment and protests at HBCUs like Mississippi’s Jackson State University, where cops would murder two Black students on May 15, 1970.

Kent State skyrocketed from 5,000 students in 1954 to 21,000 by 1966, many of them kids of factory workers whose idealism had been forged in the New Deal-era union activism. By 1970, students exhausted by watching their neighbors return from Vietnam in body bags gravitated toward radical groups like Students for a Democratic Society, or SDS. The final trigger was then-President Nixon sending U.S. troops into Cambodia, which led to Kent State protesters burning down the ROTC building, which caused Ohio’s governor to call up the National Guard.


A really frightening trick-or-treater

October 31, 2016


Source: Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.

Can college education be free for everyone?

March 25, 2016

I think it is feasible to provide college education with free or affordable tuition, as Bernie Sanders advocates.  Foreign countries do so, and the United States once did, too.

I have long been in favor of free or affordable college education for everybody who has the desire and ability to do college work, but this is different from providing free tuition for everybody.

collegekids97944673-copyRon Unz, the maverick political editor and writer, has proposed that Harvard University offer free tuition.  As he says, it can easily afford it because of the tax-free revenues of its huge endowment fund.  He also advocates for a fairer admissions process, especially for Asian-American students.

Those are excellent proposals.  But they wouldn’t get everybody who wishes into Harvard.

Sanders’ plan is for the federal government to pay for two-thirds of the cost of college education at state universities that offer free tuition and meet other conditions.  I expect that many state governors would turn down this generous offer.  Most states are cutting the budgets of their state university systems.  And after all, many states refused to expand Medicaid even though the Affordable Care Act offered to cover nine-tenths of the cost.

Germany is frequently cited as an example of a country that provides free college tuition for everyone, including foreigners, who can pass an entrance examination.

But only about 28 percent of young German adults are college graduates, compared to 43 percent of Americans.

During the golden age of American public higher education, college education was much less common.  As recently as 1990, only 23 percent of young American adults were college graduates.

Higher education in Germany also is much more bare bones than it is in the USA.  German colleges generally offer a rigorous academic program without the extra-curricular amenities that Americans typically regard as a part of the college experience.


College is unaffordable because it is necessary

August 5, 2015


When I was a college student, it was possible for a middle class family to save up enough money to pay college tuition, and it was possible to work your way through college without accumulating a burden of debt.

In that era, it also was possible for a hard-working high-school graduate to earn enough to support a family.

Now college is both unaffordable and necessary, or at least it is believed to be necessary in order to get a good job.  Education might be affordable if it wasn’t necessary, and college administrators were not in a position to charge what the traffic would bear.

As Kevin Drum of Mother Jones shows in the chart above, it does little good for the federal government to give aid to students if colleges merely raise tuition and fees accordingly.

This increased tuition and fees is not going to pay for better instruction.  More and more college teaching is being done by low-paid adjunct faculty.  Rather the revenues are going to pay administrator’s salaries and to pay for amenities intended to attract the children of the rich.

Education should be regarded as a public good, not as a article of commerce.  It should be regarded as a way to deepen knowledge and understanding, and not as a way to give certain Americans a credential that will give them a competitive advantage over other Americans.

State universities and community colleges should lower tuition so that higher education is as affordable as it once was.

And if there was a full-employment, high-wage economy, employers would hire people based on their ability to do the work rather than their credentials.  If college education was not a perceived necessity, it would be affordable.


As Federal Aid Goes Up, College Costs Rise Enough to Gobble It All Up by Kevin Drum for Mother Jones.

Best Sixteen Years of My Life on Gin and Tacos.

The passing scene: March 20, 2015

March 20, 2015

When a Summer Job Could Pay the Tuition by Timothy Taylor as the Conversible Economist.


When I attended college in the 1950s, any young American could earn enough working at a full-time summer job, and a part-time job during the school year, to pay tuition at a state university.  The USA is generating just as much wealth per person as it was then, so there is no inherent reason why that shouldn’t still be possible.

Wrong-Way Obama? by William Greider for The Nation (via Truthout)

The world economic situation is very much like it was on the eve of the Great Depression of the 1930s.  World leaders need to work together to create jobs, and to write down debt that is a burden on economic growth and never going to be paid anyway.  The Transpacific Partnership Agreement is the exact opposite of the kind of international agreement that is needed.

Who Owns the Post Office? by Mark Jamison for Save the Post Office (via Angry Bear).

The Founders of the United States didn’t think of the Postal Service as a business.  They thought of it as a means of binding the nation together.   Benjamin Franklin, once a postmaster, would have been shocked by closing of post offices in small towns because they didn’t generate enough traffic.

How Parents in One Low-Income Town Are Raising Hell to Save Their Schools by Alan Richard on Alternet.

School teachers will tell you that the key to better schools is parents getting involved.   Parents in a small town in Mississippi have figured out how to make that work.

Peasant Sovereignty? by Evanggelos Valliantos for Independent Science News.

A recent study of nine European countries is the latest study to confirm that peasants and small farmers are more productive than large mechanized farms based on industrial agriculture.  If decision-makers are concerned about feeding the world, they should be thinking about how to get land in the hands of hard-working peasants who have little.

Turning Japanese: coping with stagnation by Roland Kelts for The Long+Short.

Japan is considered a failure by some because its economy isn’t growing.  But the Japanese economy and culture work well for the Japanese.  We Americans could learn something from them.

The passing scene: Links & comments 10/10/14

October 10, 2014

Where to get a free college degree by Lynn O’Shaughnessy for CBS MoneyWatch.

Germany just made college tuition free to everyone, including Americans and other foreigners.  Students also get discounts for food, clothing and events tickets, and free or inexpensive transportation.

Tuition had been free prior to 2006.  Then German states started charging tuition, typically $630 a semester.  Critics said it was unfair to make college education depend on ability to pay and the states one by one repealed tuition charges.  Lower Saxony, the last holdout, repealed college tuition fees last week.

However, this does not mean that just anybody can enroll in a German university.  You have to be proficient in German, which isn’t an easy language, and you have to pass an entrance examination, which I don’t think would be easy, either.

The Amish Farmers Reinventing Organic Agriculture by Ric Morin for The Atlantic.

An Amish scientist—yes, there are Amish scientists—has discovered a way to fight pests without chemical poisons.  It is based on using nutrients to build up plants’ natural immune systems.   This is a step beyond standard organic farming, because it is pro-active action to make plants healthier.

Generator Produces 250,000 Watts Without Consuming Fuel by Kevin Bullis for MIT Technology Review.

A startup company called Alpha Energy has invented a new thermoelectric material, which converts heat into electricity more efficiently than other such materials.   Its generator runs on waste heat from other generators and industrial engines.  It’s not perpetual motion, but it improves energy efficiency.

Destroying a $30,000 Islamic State pickup truck can cost US $500,000 by Justine Drennan for Foreign Policy (via Stars and Stripes)

To tell the truth, I thought it cost more.

The things that President Obama could do

August 18, 2014

butwewon'tThe excuse given by supporters of President Obama is that he is stymied by the Republican control of the House of Representatives and by Republican obstructionism in the Senate.   It is true that the congressional Republicans are determined to block the President’s programs by any legal means necessary.

But as Thomas Frank pointed out in his latest Salon article, there are many things the President could do on his own authority that would be both popular and beneficial to the nation.  They are:

Frank noted that Obama also could tell the Federal Communications Commission that Net Neutrality is the policy of his administrationHe could reclassify marijuana so that it is no longer a Class I narcoticHe could reform the federal contracting system so as to discourage outsourcing and promote good labor practicesHe could encourage whistle-blowers instead of punishing them.

So why doesn’t the President do any of these things?  It can’t be because he is worried about corporate donations for his next campaign.  He is not eligible to run again, so that is not a factor.

I see three possible explanations.  The most likely is that he genuinely believes in what he is doing.  My guess is that he thinks that the status quo, with some minor modifications to file off sharp edges, is the best that is possible in today’s world.

Another possibility is that he doesn’t want to do anything to jeopardize the kind of lucrative post-Presidential career that Bill Clinton enjoys.  And the third, which I think highly improbable, is that he is afraid, that the powers-that-be know some guilty secret or have some sort of leverage on him.


The passing scene: Links & comments 6/10/14

June 10, 2014

Colleges are full of it: Behind the three-decade scheme to raise tuition, bankrupt generations and hypnotize the media by Thomas Frank for Salon.

College tuition is up an average of 1,200 percent in 30 years.  If that isn’t abuse of monopoly power, what is?  American universities are following an extreme form of the American corporate business model:  Gouge the customers, lower wages (by hiring perma-temp instructors, a.k.a. adjuncts) and award yourself a huge salary for your success in doing so.

Heroin Users in U.S. 90% White, Live Outside Urban Areas by Sonali Basak for Bloomberg News.

A recent study showed that the typical first-time heroin user is an older white person who became dependent on prescription painkillers, then switched to heroin because it was more easily obtainable or—get this!—more affordable than the drug companies’ products.

Lack of funding is the real VA scandal by Suzanne Gordon for Physicians for a National Health Program.

Want to end secret wait lists?  Staff the VA  by J. David Cox for the Huffington Post.

“Cheap.  Fast. Good.  Pick any two.”  In anything, there are tradeoffs.  If Congress chooses to deny the Veterans Administration the sufficient funds to keep up with its increased workload, that’s probably the reason it can’t keep up with its workload.


Universities as businesses: students as cash cows

September 19, 2013

Thomas Frank wrote a great article in The Baffler of where American higher education is going.  He said a lot of things I’ve long said, but he said them better and more eloquently.

bors-youth-student-loan-debt-trophyYoung people today are told they have no possibility of ever getting a good job unless they have a college education.   But they know nothing about college, or what it has to offer.   Consequently they are helpless to prevent themselves from being cash cows for greedy college administrators, greedy textbook publishers and greedy lenders.  This isn’t true of everyone everywhere, but it is common and becoming more common.

The solution is obvious.   At least it is obvious to Thomas Frank, and to me.

College should become free or very cheap. It should be heavily subsidized by the states, and robust competition from excellent state U’s should in turn bring down the price of college across the board.  Pointless money-drains like a vast administration, a preening president, and a quasi-professional football team should all be plugged up.  Accrediting agencies should come down like a hammer on universities that use too many adjuncts and part-time teachers.  Student loan debt should be universally refinanced to carry little or no interest and should be discharge-able in bankruptcy, like any other form of debt.

But the obvious solution is highly unlikely to be adopted.

What actually will happen to higher ed, when the breaking point comes, will be an extension of what has already happened, what money wants to see happen. Another market-driven disaster will be understood as a disaster of socialism, requiring an ever deeper penetration of the university by market rationality.

Trustees and presidents will redouble their efforts to achieve some ineffable “excellence” they associate with tech and architecture and corporate sponsorships. There will be more standardized tests, and more desperate test-prep. The curriculum will be brought into a tighter orbit around the needs of business, just like Thomas Friedman wants it to be.

Professors will continue to plummet in status and power, replaced by adjuncts in more and more situations. An all-celebrity system, made possible by online courses or some other scheme, will finally bring about a mass faculty extinction—a cataclysm that will miraculously spare university administrations. And a quality education in the humanities will once again become a rich kid’s prerogative.

via The Baffler.

Student-Debt-CartoonPeople wonder why the U.S. economy is so slow to recover.  Young people have no money to spare because they are burdened with college debt.  Their parents have no money to spare because they are paying off underwater mortgages.  Their grandparents have no money to spare because they have no private pensions and they haven’t been able to save.   Again, this isn’t true of everyone, everywhere, but it is common and becoming more common.

People my age (I’m 76) who belittle today’s young people don’t remember how good we had it.  College tuition was affordable, working your way through college was feasible and nobody began life with a debt burden they might never pay off.

Click on Academy Fight Song for Thomas Frank’s full magnificent survey of the American higher education money machine.

Click on How the American University Was Killed, in Five Easy Steps, by the ‘Junct Rebellion for another splendid overview.

The real problem with college debt

August 2, 2013

Congress passed a law which will lower interest rates on certain student loans for the immediate future.  But Alan Collinge, author of The Student Loan Scam and founder of, told the Real News Network that interest rates are not the most important problem.

The big problem, he told the Real News Network, is that people who take out student loans do not have the same legal rights as other borrowers—bankruptcy, statutes of limitations, truth-in-lending laws, refinancing rights and abusive collection practices, including predatory fees on defaulted loans.  This may have been what he had in mind when he said some lenders find it more profitable to have a loan in default than to be paid up.

The other problem is not the payment plan but the sticker price.  The cost of college tuition and fees is rising faster than anything else, even medical costs.

Higher Ed Inflation (more…)

Another tax on the middle class

June 17, 2013

Click to enlage.

Double click to enlarge.

When I attended college sixty-some years ago, state universities provided free or affordable education to anyone who could do college work.  That is the function of a public university.  If the goal of a university is to maximize revenue by maximizing enrollment and/or tuition, it is no different from a private, for-profit educational institution and no reason why it should be subsidized by the taxpayers.

It is hard to escape the following conclusion:

If tuition has increased astronomically and the portion of money spent on instruction and student services has fallen, if the (at very least comparative) market value of a degree has dipped and most students can no longer afford to enjoy college as a period of intellectual adventure, then at least one more thing is clear: higher education, for-profit or not, has increasingly become a scam.

via n+1.

And if a college degree is a requirement to get a job with a middle-class income, then rising tuition for public higher education is as much a tax on the middle class as the residential property tax.


Why I’m glad I’m not a young person today

June 18, 2012

It’s no wonder so many young people today prefer to focus on the virtual world of Twitter, Facebook and the other social media.  The real world is bleak.

The unemployment rate for workers age 16 to 24 is higher than 16 percent.  And many of those who are working take any job they can get, just to get by.

The cost of college tuition is going through the roof.

But things are rough if you’re just a high school graduate.

No wonder so many young people are still living with their parents.

My parents gave me a better world than the one they grew up in.  I am leaving those who come after me a world with less opportunity than I had.

Click on These Charts Show How Desperate Young People Are For Jobs for more charts and background information.

Click on The young and the jobless for more charts and background information.

Click on Diminishing Returns for a report on the plight of college graduates by the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The student loan crisis

April 26, 2012

This video is a good summary of the larger problem of higher education behind the student loan debt problem.  Nowadays young people believe that the only way to be able to earn a decent living is to have the credential of a college degree.  Employers use the college degree as a way to sort job applicants, even when you don’t really need to have taken college courses in order to qualify for the job.  But increasing the number of college graduates doesn’t, in and of itself, increase the number of jobs.  Instead it raises the hurdle to qualify for a good job.

The Foundation for Economic Education, which produced this video, is a right-wing libertarian organization which thinks government programs do more harm than good.  I don’t think that’s always true, but in this case I have to agree.  The Foundation is right to say that it was irresponsible in encouraging young people to take on debt regardless of their potential ability to repay.  It also is right to say that putting more cash in the hands of students does no good if that cash is absorbed by increased tuition.

Click on The Freeman | Ideas on Liberty for more from the Foundation for Economic Education.