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Does Equality Lead to the Most Expensive Education Ever?

 

THOMAS F. BERTONNEAU writes:

I write in response to the postings, here and here, on the life-damaging consequences of the cost of higher education and student loans.

Modern people generally, liberals, logical positivists, moral relativists, and the entire tribe of sociologists, vehemently deny that correlation is causation. Personally, correlations impress me – as do analogies, to which the same people listed above also deny significance.

When I began as a freshman at UCLA in the fall semester of 1972, the cost of a college-term was under one hundred dollars. My memory, which might be faulty even though it is quite good, is that the price (it was not called tuition, but a “registration fee”) of a ten-week quarter (three quarters in the academic year) was forty-eight dollars. Books were an extra cost. Life in the dorms or in an apartment near campus, was an additional cost. Commuting was an additional cost. But the cost was affordable. Of course, admission to the UC system was still more or less strictly by meritocratic measurement. Anyone in the top tenth percentile of his high-school graduating class was guaranteed admission to the University of California – as I recall, at the campus of his choice. Affirmative action existed in some primitive form, but it was not the totality of the game.

What was the rationale of that bygone system? It was that the State of California would benefit by the rigorous higher education of his highest-achieving high-school graduates. On graduation, the bearers of the UC baccalaureate would be good prospects for employment and competent citizens-elite of the state. These qualifications of system-graduates justified the tax-payer subsidy of state-sponsored higher education.

I come now to my point: The rising costs of a UC education since 1972 are directly in correlation to the extent of affirmative action – and, later on, of “diversity” and the imperatives of “multiculturalism.” By casual estimate, the cost of a four-year degree in the UC system has increased by five-hundred per cent. Because I am not a modern person, mentally speaking, a liberal, a logical positivist, a moral relativist, or a sociologist, my conclusion is that the effect of affirmative action, “diversity,” and the agenda of “multiculturalism” has been to increase the cost of state-subsidized higher education five-hundred per cent since 1972.

No wonder so many people are so abysmally in debt. When the purpose of higher education ceases to be the instruction of the youthful elite in real knowledge, and when it becomes a destructive fantasy of egalitarianism, the cost of higher education begins its asymptotic skyward spiral.

Laura writes:

At first glance, Mr. Bertonneau’s argument seems wrong or simplistic. After all, think of the bloated college sports programs, the luxurious buildings, the fitness centers and the food courts that characterize universities today. These add so much to the cost of education, and have nothing to do with affirmative action. Or maybe they do. As Mr. Bertonneau says:

When the purpose of higher education ceases to be the instruction of the youthful elite in real knowledge, and when it becomes a destructive fantasy of egalitarianism, the cost of higher education begins its asymptotic skyward spiral.

Once universities take on the mission of equalizing results, between men and women, and whites and nonwhites, it’s only a matter of time before they show these other symptoms of lost purpose and decadence. In other words, it’s only a matter of time before they become catastrophically expensive.

—— Comments —–

James P. writes:

Mr. Bertonneau argues that affirmative action / diversity / multiculturalism are responsible for increasing the cost of state-subsidized higher education five-hundred per cent since 1972. This is not especially convincing, for as you note, there is a good deal of bloat in sports programs, food courts, and what have you. I will also note that universities have hired a large number of administrators, and it is hard to connect this to the increased number of “diverse” students since these administrators do not teach. At the UC system, for example, the number of administrators increased 220 percent from 1991 to 2010 (which is wildly disproportionate to the 24 percent growth in the total number of employees).

A lot of what feeds college spending on “nonsense” (hiring administrators, improving facilities) is government money — both directly, in the case of state-subsidized schools like the UC system, and indirectly, in the form of guaranteed student loans. The purported need to educate minorities is part of the reason the government shovels money at the universities, but not the only or even the primary reason. Education is a highly successful interest group, both at the secondary school level and the college level. They manage to extract large resources from the taxpayers even in states and school districts with relatively few minorities.

Joel writes:

In the case of UC, the primary reason why cost to students has risen so much is because the state has cut back funding so much. Whether measured as a percentage of the state budget or percentage of California per capita income, the state contributes much less to U.C. now than it did in 1971.

Essentially, the generation that received nearly free UC education has decided not to pass that benefit onto succeeding generations.

It turns out that very little affirmative action occurs in UC admissions (though there are many who wish it were otherwise). The California Constitution outlaws any preference on the basis of race. The minimal influence of affirmative action at UC is demonstrated by the fact that half of the student body is of Asian heritage — way out of proportion to the population, but clearly in proportion to the top 8 percent of California high school students. It’s the Harvards of the world that employ affirmative action — we know that because they have so few Asian-heritage students.

Mr. Bertonneau writes:

Responding to James P. and Joel –

James P. and Joel might be right. I am not an expert on the UC system, nor am I an economist. To the degree that they are experts on the UC system or economists, I yield to their greater knowledge. I would nevertheless like to point out a thing or two. One is that UC compliance with California constitutional law is grudging and mendacious; the admissions people have all sorts of verbal dodges for seeking the “diverse student body” without which, in their view, no one can learn anything. Another is that the multicultural agenda is as powerful in the UC system as it is anywhere else, and its main functions are to promote and justify various racial bean-counting procedures. Consider this paragraph from UCLA’s admissions website: “While California law prohibits the consideration of an applicant’s race and/or gender in individual admission decisions, the University also has a mandate to reflect the diversity of the state’s population in its student body. Student diversity is a compelling interest at UCLA. It contributes to a rich and stimulating learning environment, one that best prepares leaders-in-the-making for the challenges and opportunities of California, the nation, and beyond.”

Mary writes:

Joel wrote: “In the case of UC, the primary reason why cost to students has risen so much is because the state has cut back funding so much. Whether measured as a percentage of the state budget or percentage of California per capita income, the state contributes much less to U.C. now than it did in 1971.”

This is interesting to me because my limited experience with the way California does things left a lasting impression. In the late 70s a disproportionately high number of my fellow graduates on the East coast left for California. Word had it all you had to do was live in California for a year to gain residency and then you could receive an excellent college education for free. I visited several of these friends and was amazed. A group of these young, strong, smart, able-bodied creatures lived together in a rented house minutes from the gorgeous California coastline; they were tanned and fit from playing in the sunshine as they did; they were thriving in their free schooling with hip professors; they ate very well on the food stamps they received, perhaps supplemented by a part-time job in a fun cafe or some such thing. It was paradise, albeit not a moral paradise by any stretch. But this lifestyle was evidently available to anyone for the asking; there were many others just like them form all over the country. Most of these young people never returned from paradise.

California was audaciously generous back then, but has since apparently found that level of largesse unsustainable.

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