President Obama – certainly with good reason for feeling frustrated these days – seems to want to take that frustration out on higher education. In today’s speech on the economy, the president assailed higher ed for pushing students and families ever deeper into debt, and promised to aggressively “shake up” an “undisciplined system where costs just keep going up and up and up.”
But one doubts here that Obama is taking care to distinguish between “cost” and “price.” A close look at public universities, especially in poor states like Mississippi, might reveal that the actual cost to educate students has in fact, when adjusted for inflation, gone up very little, while the price to students has indeed jumped dramatically. But why? Not because public universities have been wasteful, become more inefficient, bloated their administrative ranks, etc. etc., but because legislatures, exhibiting a market-based consumerist, shrink-government-spending perspective, have steadily “disinvested” in higher education. With fewer state dollars coming to public universities like Southern Miss, the student tuition burden (and hence the debt burden) has steadily risen.
Yes, there has to be accountability and transparency. But don’t put it all on higher education, Mr. President. Be generous; spread it around to all the responsible parties.