I want to discuss an incident that happened recently at Middlebury College. What happened was a group of conservative students invited Charles Murray, author of the controversial book “The Bell Curve”, to speak on campus. When he arrived, student protesters gathered en masse to shout him down and prevented him from speaking at all. It got pretty ugly with students pulling fire alarms and banging on windows.
Frank Bruni at the New York Times wrote about this incident in editorial yesterday and talked about the “emotional coddling” that seems to be taking hold of university students today. And, on a certain level, this appears somewhat true. The whole point of college is to encourage an open debate of ideas and that clearly did not happen here.
This issue is a little personal for me and runs counter to the household where I was raised. My father was a lawyer who read three newspapers a day—the left leaning one, the moderate one, and the conservative one. When I asked him why he did this, he told me, “It’s important to get the full spectrum of viewpoints so you can make the best decisions on what is right for you.”
Also, he was a lawyer, so he had to know his opponent’s position if he wanted to argue against them successfully. As Sun Tzu said, “Know yourself, know your enemy, a thousand battles, a thousand victories.”
Unfortunately, today’s students seem to want to do the opposite—only read the newspaper that confirms their views and scream at anyone disagree with it.That is very bad and usually leads to disastrous consequences.
But the point of this speech is not to say “Those damn kids!” and whine about political correctness. What I really want to look at is what created this horrible dynamic.
Now, does anyone here know the current cost of tuition at Middlebury? I looked it up online to find out and, according to their website, it is $61,000. Over four years that calculates to a little under a quarter of a million dollars.
That’s a lot of money and indicates a big rise since I went to school, admittedly a hundred years ago and at the state university. But when I went to school, college tuition was $6,000 a year. Adjusted for inflation, that comes to $10,000 annually. That’s one-sixth of the cost of Middlebury’s current rate. Now, lest you think this is a public-private school thing, the current tuition at UNH, my alma mater, is now 32K a year. So over the course of 25 years, the price tripled.
This, I think, is the underlying cause behind students’ unbearable self-righteousness. Because when students are forced to pay a quarter of a million dollars to get a shot at a decent job, they stop being students and become customers. If you are familiar with business practices at all, you know the guiding idea is “The customer is always right.” If I pay $60K for anything, you’re damn right I don’t want to be challenged. I want everything done in a way that pleases me, the customer. I expect service, not challenge.
These high tuition rates run counter to the whole premise of education. Customers don’t want to learn, they don’t want to be educated. They want service and they want it fast. So I don’t think students are wrong at all for feeling the way they do. Because when colleges became a requirement for a good job, they stopped being places of learning and were reduced to becoming certification programs, and extremely profitable ones at that.
Because, over the years, university administrators and government officials have colluded to bleed students dry. It’s basically a racket. According to the most recent analysis (in 2015) by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), over the past 10 years, the government has made $135 billion in profit on student loans. The level of student debt in this country is now one trillion dollars and $100 billion of that in default.
What’s the cure for this? Is there a way to bust up this racket? I would offer a solution that has worked in Germany, Norway, Finland, Sweden, and France—that is, making college free. And this is not some radical idea either, it’s what we used to do.
According to the U.S. Education Department, average undergraduate tuition and fees — excluding room and board — in the 1965-66 school year was $607 per year for a four-year college (public and private). That’s right, college tuition used to be something pretty everyone could buy with a couple weeks pay. Many of the best colleges – including the City University of New York and the University of California system – did not charge any tuition at all.
I can hear the protests already – this will be way too expensive. Not really. The total price of making college free is estimated to cost about $75 billion annually. That sounds like a lot until you compare it to other government programs. For purposes of comparison, I’d like to throw out the F-35 fighter jet out there. The total cost of F-35 program, which my brother actually works on, is $1.45 trillion, which could have provided free college to every student in the U.S. for the past 20 years.
Now I want to ask you—what would be more useful to you, a fighter jet that America can use to bomb another Middle Eastern country, or to have no student debt at all? I’ve got two little girls, ages 6 and 9, and it’s clear to me which would be more useful to them. If you’ve got kids or are drowning in student debt, I think the answer will be pretty clear to you too. Basically anyone who is sick of American kids being cheated out of a good education should feel the same way. And I hope you’ll join me in pursuing the matter. Thank you.