Thursday, December 13, 2007

CLASS WAR. The Wall Street Journal editorializes against large, rich institutions that aren't giving back their fair share. Sounds strange? Relax. The institutions they're talking about are colleges.
Faculty members are paid more to teach fewer hours, and colleges have turned their campuses into "country clubs." Princeton's new $136 million dorm, according to BusinessWeek, has "triple-glazed mahogany casement windows made of leaded glass" and "the dining hall boasts a 35-foot ceiling gabled in oak and a 'state of the art servery,' " whatever a servery is.
The doorty rich swine! How will an appropriate wealth transfer to the Common Man be effected? The Journal proposes that colleges start spending out more of their endowments. Do they mean tuition rebates of the sort Harvard just put into place? Irrelevant, says the Journal; we must cut back "government handouts." Do they mean the sort of federal moneys regularly given to University researchers? The editorial doesn't mention that; it is instead concerned with the pernicious effect of indirect funding of Big Edu in the form of... financial aid to students:
Tuition has risen about three percentage points faster than inflation every year for the past quarter-century. At the same time, the feds have put more and more money behind student loans and other financial aid. The government is slowly becoming a third-party tuition payer, with all the price distortions one would expect. Every time tuition rises, the government makes up the difference; colleges thus cheerfully raise tuition (and budgets), knowing the government will step in.
In fact, the whole concept of needs-based financial aid smells fishy to the editorialists:
Mr. Vedder wonders why universities should get to ask the income of their students before telling them how much they'll be charged. That sounds like price discrimination: If a car dealer tried to make you fill out the form students have to fill out for financial aid, he notes, "you'd run to a consumer protection agency."
So dis-endowment must happen, but not in the form of tuition remission. The government should stop helping people get into colleges. Presumably then Big Edu will have to charge less.

A market-based solution! We should have seen that one coming. Of course the Journal never tries this kind of thing on companies like, say, Wal-Mart, which uses its own considerable resources to avail various tax breaks and government subsidies. In fact, when legislators push back against Wal-Mart, the Journal predictably comes to its defense -- and only denounces the corporation when it capitulates. Last year the paper's Brendan Miniter praised Maryland Governor Robert Ehrlich for vetoing a bill that, on the grounds that Wal-Mart's poor health care plans were stressing the state's Medicaid rolls, would have forced Wal-Mart to spend 8% of its payroll in the state on employee health insurance.

(Miniter said this veto, and "Erlich's defense of marriage and Christmas," meant the Governor was in "a strong position to win re-election this fall." Five months later, Ehrlich lost by seven points. This February, when the Wal-Mart CEO seemed, understandably, to warm toward a national health-care plan, the Journal likened it to "Stockholm Syndrome.")

This is to show, not that it needs showing, that the Journal is not normally given to proletarianism. But academia is a favored rightwing villain, and any means to decrease its power may be used, even class-war pictures of mahogany and serveries. The sad thing is that higher education is too expensive, as is made clear by the monstrous debts now incurred in its pursuit. Alas, this end of the equation the Journal treats lightly:
Though academic standards have certainly fallen, college graduates still, on average, make about twice as much over the course of their lifetimes as people with only a high school diploma. So if the government got out of the higher education business, a lot of families might decide to make the sacrifice anyway, even without the tuition aid. But they might also decide that they can live without the mahogany windows.
Mahogany windows are the least of their concerns; as I have said before, a degree is for most of our citizens just a way of getting over, and in the current environment many of them perceive the stakes high enough that it is worth even an astounding debt-load. The Journal seems to think its readers won't mind maintaining that onerous status quo, so long as the big boys -- the gowned sort, that is -- take a hit. They really ought to leave class war to the experts.

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