Watching the bumbling spectacle of bureaucratic incompetence emanating out of Charlottesville put me in mind of that amusing old country and western song “First you say you will and then you won’t,/ Then you say you do and then you don’t,/ What are you going to do?” (Dum-dum-dum, Da-dum-dum-dum.) Let’s see: it’s June 10: “University of Virginia President Teresa A. Sullivan to step down.” Thus screameth the headline, and you didn’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to conclude that by “step down” the story meant “got the boot.”
But wait, that was last week. This week the news, at least the headline, is University of Virginia Reinstates President. I say “headline” and not “the news” because the real news here is the impending collapse of that house of cards known as the institution of higher education in the United States. As Anne Neal, president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, wrote in the WaPo, “higher education is on a collision course” — with fiscal reality. “Even though the United States spends more per higher-education student than any other Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development nation, we have worse results.”
The cost of higher education, i.e., not the real cost but your tuition bill, has been rising at something close to 7.5% per year for decades. Why? Say hello to all those shiny new administrators, Mom. Dad, let me introduce you to this lavish pension over here, and let’s not forget the university president, who is paid the way a CEO of a major, for-profit corporation would like to be paid.
President Sullivan wanted to take it easy. She is for “incremental” change, i.e., change patterned on the movement of a glacier, that is, not only slow but also destructive.
Something’s got to give, Ms. Neal observes, “or everything will.”
Think about this: There are more and more elite institutions in this country where junior’s annual college bill starts with a 6, as in sixty-thousand dollars.
Oh, but what about the generous government loan programs? Yes, what about them? Total student-loan debt now tops $1 trillion. That’s more than total credit-card debt for the U.S. It is more than auto-loan debt, and at least when you go into hock for a BMW you get wheels.