A Good Place To Start Trimming The Federal Budget


America spends far more on education than countries like Germany, Japan, Australia, Ireland, and Italy, both as a percentage of its economy, and in absolute terms. Yet despite this lavish government support for education, college tuition in the U.S. is skyrocketing, reaching levels of $50,000 or more a year at some colleges, and colleges are effectively rewarded for increasing tuition by mushrooming federal financial-aid spending. Americans can’t read or do math as well as the Japanese, even though America spends way more (half again more) on education than Japan does, as a percentage of income, according to the CIA World Fact Book.

Definitely another bubble about to pop.

9 thoughts on “A Good Place To Start Trimming The Federal Budget”

  1. I read an article several months ago that was astonishing. It stated that when colleges raised their tuition, the number of applications they received went up. It stated that many applicants (and their parents) believed the absurd notion that more expensive tuition automatically meant better education. It brought to mind the old saying about someone “knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

    As long as you have dupes like the ones mentioned in that article and ever increasing government operated student loan programs, colleges have a vested interest in raising their tuition year after year.

  2. The rising costs of college-level education are perfectly expected, if you realize that a diploma is a “signal” of economic fitness, rather than a useful feature.

    Like peacock feathers. The bigger and flashier, the better, no matter that it harms the survival odds of the bird. That’s sort of the point. It proves you can survive despite the crushing debt load and bizarre course requirements. Employers like that, because it means you can work hard, keep focused, jump through ridiculous hoops invented by managers, and are desperate for a paycheck to make those monthly loan payments.

    Entrepreneurs can’t be trusted though. They’re a flight risk.

    We also know that education is not a normal good because no one measures outputs, only inputs. There’s no national graduation exam for colleges that would allow apples-to-apples comparisons of the results you get from Harvard or Yale versus, say, Florida State or USC. The only thing you can directly measure is the cost, not the quality.

    I mean, no one buys cars or DVD players that way. For normal goods you check Consumer Reports, read the Amazon reviews, and price shop for the best deal. Not so with a college diploma. So obviously, not a “normal” good.

    So here’s a tip for education reformers: If you want to absolutely destroy the University elite, develop national exit exams at the high school and college graduate levels. That will allow the University of Phoenix and local State schools to compete on a level playing field with Stanford and MIT. That will force the Universities to prove their bang-for-buck value.

    This will also make the failure of some colleges and primary school districts to educate their students plain on its face, forcing reform, while simultaneously reduce the need for college at all, as the better primary school districtss will push to educate their students closer to the college-level.

  3. Ah, yes. National exams. Just like France. Great idea. Maybe we could even create an organization of people who have passed that test to lobby government to implement restrictive licensing for particular jobs to those who have passed this single exam. For the public good, of course. I bet we could even arrange it so that curriculum was dictated by the contents of the exam, so everyone would learn exactly the same thing! That would be the jump start our economy needs!

    I have another, crazy idea. Let’s judge universities by the quality of research and employability of the graduates they turn out. Let’s allow parents and students to learn a hard lesson instead of trying to protect them. Nanny-statism doesn’t work in welfare, compulsory guilding doesn’t work in industry, and neither will work in education.

  4. Yet despite this lavish government support for education, college tuition in the U.S. is skyrocketing


    Because. More student loans for everyone – and naturally tuition rises to match.

    Roga: I don’t think the “exam” Brock had in mind was any more than a “demonstrate your ability at math, reading, and the like”.

    Not a matter of “passing” or “failing”, but to demonstrate what was or was not learned via those heavily funded and “always improving” schools.

    We already have vague equivalents in the SAT and ACT tests; making the exit exam universal would provide useful information about how terrible a school is – or how good it is.

    If we’re going to have compulsory schooling – and we appear to be completely stuck with it – then a standardized exit-time exam seems to be a useful and not additionally harmful check-up on what the compulsory schools are actually doing.

  5. Whoa there, Roga. You read more into my suggestion than I intended. Who said anything about these national exams being institutionalized through government? I specifically mentioned Consumer Reports and Amazon reviews, didn’t I? No government there.

    All I said was necessary was some sort of standard, whether private or publicly enacted, that would allow the apples to apples comparisons of collegiate results. High school too.

    Sigivald hit is on the head. Take a test to demonstrate you actually know what you’re doing. That’s it. The test can be administered by Kaplan or Princeton Review for all I care.

    And indeed, the results from the test should be very granular. Not an “A”, or a “Pass” but specifically “knows X; does not understand Y.” That sort of feedback would be far more useful to school reformers, students looking to improve, and potential employers or “higher” educators.

  6. Sigivald Says:
    December 27th, 2010 at 10:52 am

    “Despite? Because. “

    Wow. You just gave me one of those amazing flashes of brilliance I occasionally get from time to time. If you increase demand for something… let’s see… you increase demand… and supply remains the same… prices will… hmm… prices will…. go UP! They will go up! OMG! How come nobody ever thought of this before? Please, help me get this out to the world.

    Wait.. I just had another idea. To make money in the market… you should buy high and sell low. No, WAIT! Buy low, sell HIGH! It’s the selling high part that does it.

    Stay tuned for more astounding insights.

  7. I did read articles this year that state college students actually scored lower in civic knowledge than high school students. If correct, this means either the college students were not taking any civics classes so their knowledge was fading or they were being taught things that aren’t true. Either way, it’s pretty damning.

    I wonder how college students would fare at taking the SAT or ACT before graduation to compare to their high school scores.

  8. For aerospace engineers at least (the field with which I have personal experience), the quality of the student is far more important than the quality of the program – pretty much any semi-decent accredited program will be enough for a sharp and motivated student. The most important thing about the program is that it balance theory and practice reasonably well. This is something that the USNews rankings don’t have a clue about – there are plenty of middle-tier programs that produce AE’s who are better prepared for actual design work than supposedly top-tier institutions. But if the individual engineer is good, he/she can pick up OJT for what was missed in the university.

  9. I just wanted to note my appreciation to Bart for sharing his insights. That’s really an epihany. I hope the word gets out on his discoveries.

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