Independent Institute’s Dr. Richard Vedder on Higher Education, Skyrocketing Tuitions, & the Student Debt Crisis

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This week on “The Learning Curve,” co-hosts Cara Candal and Gerard Robinson talk with Dr. Richard Vedder, Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute and Distinguished Emeritus Professor of Economics at Ohio University. He shares analysis on the macro impact of COVID on the U.S. labor market, and the long-term economic prospects of American college students. He reviews insights from his recent book, Restoring the Promise: Higher Education in America, on the true cost of higher education to American society amid the student debt crisis, administrative bloat, controversial admissions policies, and intercollegiate athletics scandals. They discuss the need for greater transparency about students’ earnings potential, the key ingredients of higher education reform, and what he refers to as the “three Is”: information, incentives, and innovation.

Stories of the Week: In Arkansas, Governor-elect Sarah Sanders has hired Jacob Oliva, a senior chancellor in Florida’s education department, to lead reform efforts, and focus on school choice and early literacy. Congress recently passed a $1.7 trillion federal omnibus package that provides $70 million in additional funds for statistics, research, and evaluation within the U.S. Education Department.

Guest:
Dr. Richard Vedder is Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute and Distinguished Emeritus Professor of Economics at Ohio University; and he is the Founding Director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity in Washington, D.C. He is author of the books, Restoring the Promise: Higher Education in AmericaOut of Work: Unemployment and Government in Twentieth-Century America, and the monograph, Can Teachers Own Their Own Schools? New Strategies for Educational Excellence, and Going Broke by Degree: Why College Costs Too Much. His hundreds of articles and reviews have appeared in numerous scholarly journals, as well as in such publications as the Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor, Forbes, National Review, CNN.com, Washington Times, and Investor’s Business Daily. And, he has been interviewed on Fox News Channel, ABC, NBC, Fox Business Network, CNN, PBS, C-SPAN, Fox Nation, NPR, and many other TV and radio networks and programs. Professor Vedder received his Ph.D. in economics from the University of Illinois.

The next episode will air on Weds., January 18th, with David Garrow, Professor of Law & History and Distinguished Faculty Scholar at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, and the Pulitzer-winning author of, Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Tweet of the Week:

News Links:

A DARPA for K–12? Omnibus Bill Includes Substantial New Funds for Education R&D

https://www.the74million.org/article/a-darpa-for-k-12-omnibus-bill-includes-substantial-new-funds-for-education-rd/

 Florida’s Education Model Spreads – Arkansas Gov.-elect Sarah Sanders recruits a Ron DeSantis administration reformer.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/floridas-education-model-spreads-11672962041

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The Learning Curve Dr. Richard Vedder

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[00:00:00] GR: Listeners, welcome back to The Learning Curve. As many of you know, we are not only fans of what we learn in schools and in policy, but also through sports. Now, many of our guests, in fact, followed Cara and her family’s journey watching Argentina go all the way to win the World Cup – there is what they call football.

[00:00:41] Here we call it soccer. Well, some of you know that I’m a big football fan, and so for those of us who were watching football last night, as someone who still has a home in Georgia, the Georgia win for the National Championship was pretty good. Now, Cara, I know you’re not as excited as I am, [00:01:00] but for some of our listeners, that was a big win.

[00:01:04] Cara: Well, okay, so a couple things here. Gerard, it’s fútbol.

[00:01:10] GR: Good point.

[00:01:11] Cara: And my obnoxious children, yeah, who are now at the point – I should be thankful because they’re now fully bilingual, the older ones and are constantly correcting my Spanish – But I have to say, I do, one of my sons does follow football and I think, did your win knock the Patriots out, or the Patriots didn’t make it?

[00:01:32] All the people in Massachusetts are hating me right now for not knowing the answer to this question. But I know there was some football at my house this weekend, I will say, because one, my son Nico, is quite a fan and he was disappointed. But just a lot of, I mean, a lot of dramatic stuff happening around football too with this young man who,

[00:01:51] you know, took that hit. Yeah. And I mean, my heart goes out to the family and to the Buffalo Bills fans, but also a rather miraculous story for that team [00:02:00] as well. Is it not?

[00:02:02] GR: It is. And you’ve just proven how little you watched football. Cuz I was talking about college football. . It was the Georgia Bulldogs.

[00:02:17] But no, you actually are correct about the gentleman for the Bills and I do believe the Patriots are out now. I have not followed pro football as much cuz I’ve been really just dug down pretty deep on the college side.

[00:02:30] Cara: But yeah, you know, you’re an education guy. It matters.

[00:02:34] GR: Well, congratulations to the Georgia Bulldogs and the Georgia Football Nation undefeated season. The only team to have back to back national championships in a new college football playoff era. Kudos to Texas Christian University while it was a blowout, it was a win for that university and their coach who took them just, just great hikes this year.

[00:02:56] So that was part of my football story. I know I was not as [00:03:00] excited about football, but just wanted to give a shout out. And also to the young man who plays with the Bills of his family for a speedy recovery.

[00:03:07] Cara: Yeah, man, I mean, what a week in that regard.

[00:03:13] That is gonna be a happy story in the end. It’s frightening. It’s, oh my goodness. Horribly frightening as that must have been for everybody who was watching and not to mention the people involved. Well, Gerard, you know, like I said, you’re an education guy and I think, you know sports. Super relevant to what we talk about because it’s something that we’re watching in education, sports is a really important part of education – especially higher education as you point out.

[00:03:36] And I hear from my friends who live in Texas that it’s not Friday night in Texas if you’re not at a high school football. But no, I’ve been watching of course, as we always do a few things in the education news and you know that there are a couple states we talk a lot about on The Learning Curve.

[00:03:51] One of them I think is Georgia, boy. I would love to know what’s the most talked about state on this show because between the education-oriented stories, just [00:04:00] the general national stories…Georgia seems to be a big one. Arkansas, I think is up there, Florida certainly up there this week. My story brings in two of those states because as I’m sure you’ve read Jacob Oliva, who is a senior chancellor in Florida’s education department, is gonna be going over to lead education in the state of Arkansas. And I have to say, Gerard, I have really high hopes for Arkansas’s education agenda right now. I think Arkansas has been making some measured progress in the past two years. They have some very small sort of scholarship programs for students and they’ve been, I think, making moves to improve education, certainly in terms of college and career pathways and other things.

[00:04:43] But newly elected Sarah Sanders, Governor Sarah Sanders, she has quite an education agenda and, much of it, I think is really good stuff. She’s going all in on, on choice. She’s really gonna go in on things like, early literacy [00:05:00] and making sure that parents have access and students and families have access to all of the kinds of schools that they need, public schools and private schools and charter schools – which that’s another one we need to talk about soon in Arkansas. So I have high hopes and by bringing over somebody from the Florida Department of Education who has overseen things like the growth of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, who oversees their programs for students with special needs in those opportunity programs, who was integral in getting Florida schools back open and kids back to school during COVID. I think that this is a really, really strong pick. It’s always interesting seeing you’ve worked in Florida, Gerard, you’ve led that state’s education agenda. Really interesting to see how a handful of states continue to produce real thought leaders who go on to other states to change the game there.

[00:05:49] So, cheers to Governor Sanders, who I think really has her eye on the education agenda in a right way, and in making what we hope will turn out to be a really strong pick and will [00:06:00] do good for the students and families of Arkansas. I would love to know your thoughts, especially on this Florida connection, Gerard.

[00:06:07] GR: you and I cut our teeth in Ed policy during an era where governors were considered education governors were, they say, we really won’t just say education matters. They did it through, financially through human resources and through public policy. And so when the history book is written on education governors – and some of that goes back to the 1980s moving forward – of course Governor Jeb Bush will be on the Mount Rushmore of education governors.

[00:06:36] And so when you take, llook at Florida today, you’ve gotta go back and start with the role he played in his legacy. You also have to add on the fact that you’ve had two other Republican governors who said, “You know what? We think education matters.” Rick Scott, now Senator Rick Scott. Scott was governor of Florida for a years, I had a chance to work for him as his first education commissioner.

[00:06:57] He not only invested [00:07:00] initially a billion dollars in K-12 education, but did a lot to move the conversation. And when you talk about Florida, we know about the school choice side, but there was just a lot of great things done in the traditional public school system, but also in higher ed. You then shift to Governor DeSantis and the work that he’s doing.

[00:07:17] So one takeaway from me is that governors matter. We just had over 30 gubernatorial elections in the past, like several weeks now. And so you have a whole new set of governors who are gonna be elected. Governor Sanders, a Governor-elect Sanders said, “Guess what? I wanna make education a reality. I’m gonna pick someone who’s gonna do so.”  And I expect other governors will make choices either within the Department of Education station in her at his own state, or they may pick a superintendent or they may go outside the state boundaries to pick someone. But this for me is just another example of why governors matter and picking the right state chief, state secretary, state superintendent means a lot.

[00:07:54] But the Florida story is important. I say that we’ll also have to include Massachusetts [00:08:00] because it was also a part of the 1980s governor’s movement for education. Massachusetts still matters today in that role. So great for Arkansas. And also wanna give a shout out to its previous governor who’s outgoing right now in the role that he played to ensure that people who are incarcerated got a second chance through education. So I expect a lot from Arkansas, both in the K-12 sector, in higher ed, but also in the state prison system.

[00:08:28] Cara: I wanna just pick up on one thing you said. Gerard, thank you very much for mentioning the great state of Massachusetts, where I’m coming to you from right now – or the Commonwealth, I should say. That’s what happens when you don’t grow up here! But I’m, I’m excited, you know, we have a newly inaugurated governor, governor Moore Healy, and I wanna say I’m hopeful, uh but I’m less hopeful than I might have been. I’m hopeful that I’ll be surprised by her education agenda.

[00:08:52] I’m hopeful for one thing in the state, a couple things in the state of Massachusetts, but I’ll focus on one. I think there is finally our NAEP scores, [00:09:00] which we’re very used to being top of the tops with and they, they took a tumble, as did most, as did most, but I think the Commonwealth is in a place right now where we need to wake up and start making some big investments in things like early literacy.

[00:09:13] We could make some more investments in choice. I don’t see that happening. I’ll always be here banging the drum for it, but thank you for pointing that out, Gerard. And yeah, Governors make a difference. Legislatures can make a difference too… So let’s, not forget that. We’ve got a lot of great state officials out there who are working, not always getting the stuff passed.

[00:09:32] Gotta keep trying. So, Gerard, what’s on your mind this week?

[00:09:35] GR: Well, speaking of big investments and lawmakers, my article or article of the week is from the 74 and it’s written by Kevin Kevin Mahnken. Uh, The title is “A DARPA for K-12 Education? Omnibus Bill Includes Substantial New Funds for Education R&D” The omnibus bill includes substantial new funds. Education R and D budget to increase aims at developing quick turnaround, high rewards, [00:10:00] learning innovations.

[00:10:01] So for those of you who aren’t really familiar with the sausage-making in Washington D.C., when we get to the end of the calendar year “it’s time to keep the government open” is often used as a cold phrase to say, we’re gonna have to put together an omnibus bill and just put a ton of things in there.

[00:10:19] Well, here’s an example of education getting a win for that, but not only education in particular, but one particular segment of education called the Institute for Education Sciences. So a bipartisan majority in the closing months of December passed the law and they sent it to over to Biden who signed it, and it includes $70 million to boost the work of the Institute for Education Sciences.

[00:10:44] And it’s an arm of the U.S. Department of Education. And through that arm, they focus on research evaluation and statistics. Now within this 9.6% bump, which brings the institute’s overall budget to 808,000,040, of that amount is intended to foster, “quick turnaround, high rewards, scalable solutions intended to improve education outcomes for all students.” As someone who had a chance to intern on Capitol Hill and who has worked in two states and have also worked for D.C. Public Schools, I can tell you that you often don’t hear “quick turnaround” when you’re talking about government investments into government programs. I don’t say that in the bad way.

[00:11:30] I’m a government guy. I support smart government, but to hear “quick turnaround, high rewards, scalable solutions,” those aren’t phrases often synonymous with government. So I’m glad to see that as a goal, and so let’s talk about the Institute for Education Sciences. It was created in 2002 as part of the Education Sciences Reform Act of 2002, signed into law by then President George W. Bush, also with bipartisan [00:12:00] support, and it was created.

Say, listen, we need to have an arm of the Department of Education who could do a deep dive into information K-12 also higher ed, but a bulk of is K-12 education to see what’s taking place at the federal government, but also what states are doing and how we can create and close the gap for innovation.

[00:12:20] Now, the goal is to have the institute at one point, let’s say within the next several years, morph into a Research Center for the Institute for Education Sciences. Right now there are four institutes under the institute. It is the National Center for Education Research, the National Center for Education Statistics, the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, and the National Center for Special Education Research.

[00:12:49] And so with this additional money, there will be an opportunity for it. Spin off into a fifth R. Now the director of IES is Mark Schneider. [00:13:00] Someone that I know also could be someone we can maybe send an invitation to, to have a conversation about his work, but he described this infusion as a down payment toward “something the department’s been talking about for 20 years.”

[00:13:13] Now, that’s important to note because for some of our listeners, you may think this is the first time the Department of Education has said, “Let’s get serious about doing a deep dive to create an independent center to focus on this.” No, this has gone on not only for 20 years, but through different administrations, different presidents and different directors, and what Mark said is I’ll be pushing for a separate center, and he’s ecstatic that Congress has actually provided an opportunity.

[00:13:39] He said, “There’s no question about it.” This is a major accomplishment. The depart. The Institute and many people outside have spent a lot of time in energy trying to get this established. Now, of course, this would not have happened without Democrats and Republicans coming together to move this idea. Now, the initial goal was to create a National Center for Advanced Development and Education.

[00:14:01] That was a title. Then there was a big push. For the group to focus on teaching methods and technology also to look at the role that voice recognition could play in helping students with dyslexia. Now, while the language for this center uh, was included in the house fiscal year 2023, budget, It didn’t make it until the bill ultimately passed.

[00:14:22] So while it did not make it into the bill, some of the things they want in it moved forward. And so members of the Congress said they’re in there, but they’re gonna push next year to see what they can do to take it to the next level. Now,iIn the title of the article, we hear the phrase of the term DARPA.

[00:14:39] And DARPA is a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. It was created in 1958. Why 1958? It was done in part when President Dwight D. Eisenhower supported this initiative in response to the Soviet Union launching Sputnik. And for many of our listeners, you know, that with the launch of Sputnik America said, “We have to get involved in the space race,” but we also said, “We’ve gotta get involved in the brains race.”

[00:15:07] So not only was DARPA created in 1958, but the National Defense Education Act was also in pass in 1958 in response to the Soviets’ acceleration into space. And what that law did was number one for my teachers who were children. Then they said it all of a sudden increased a lot of their homework in math and science.

[00:15:27] Well, not only did it do that, but it really pushed STEM as a footprint within the American imagination, but also in the American school system that we had to do it. It also pushed. Support of the teaching of foreign languages. It also created fellowships for more teachers to get involved in this area. So in 58, DARPA created, but also the National Defense Act.

[00:15:49] Well, let’s put that into perspective of where we are today. Right now, the private sector is launching satellites and ships into space. We know that there’s also a big STEM [00:16:00] drive that we’re in competition, not only with China in Russia, but also with members of the BRICS nations. We also know coming out of COVID that we have a learning loss, but we can’t, while in the learning loss, we have to focus on learning first.

[00:16:15] And so, with the Institute for Education Sciences, having this boost I’m pretty excited about it. Now, I know that some of my colleagues on the Right are not big fans of having a federal Department of Education. We’ve had guests on our show who said that I know that some of my friends on the Right.

[00:16:31] Think that department of Education should have a small, should be a small f small p in terms of partner, well here is one place where I, first of all, I support a continuation of the U.S. Department of Education. I support having a strong capital F involvement. But I really am glad to see the kind of investment into research and design because incoming state chief in Arkansas and the current state secretary superintendents that we have in place, we often need.

[00:17:02] Someplace to go to find data quick. But the fact that we have an investment from the Federal Department of Education to talk about high quality and quick turnaround, that saves us money at the state level and will provide state leaders with an opportunity to do work and to partner with our local people.

[00:17:17] So enough of that for me. What are your thoughts?

[00:17:20] Cara: My thoughts are, listen, the federal government has three roles when it comes to education, research, and data collection, which I think they do pretty darn well. Categorical funding, things like our title monies, title one to go down to the States, which people who don’t like federal involvement in education should, should figure out how much title funding their kids are receiving in schools. And then finally, you know, to protect basic civil rights. That’s where the federal government can get involved in education, which is mainly the domain of the states.

[00:17:48] But I’m with you couldn’t have done my dissertation research without the Institute of Education Sciences. I can’t tell you how much time I spend looking at the data that they collect and publish, which I think is really important. The one thing I will say is as they get this bump and there’s more room for research, I hope we’re aware that we need to educate a new generation of quant-minded and qualitatively-minded researchers that can do the work to help us really understand what all of these data tell us. And I will say traditionally, I don’t think schools of education have not, most of them, I mean, have done a great job in they, they can produce teacher.

[00:18:31] Sometimes, well, sometimes not. They haven’t done a great job of producing the next generation of researchers. I am seeing some hopeful signs that there are more and more strong young education researchers that are gonna take advantage of this kind of opportunity out in the field. I will point to my alma mater and place right down the street here in Boston, Boston University.

[00:18:51] New center called the Boston University of Wheelock Education Policy Center, and some folks doing some really great work, which they couldn’t do without exactly the kind of data collection that you are talking about. Information is power, and I agree with you. This is a really important function of the Feds.

[00:19:09] We’ve got a great guest coming up and it is a connection to your story because he’s an economist and many of the folks, in fact that are doing great work in education, happen to be economists, folks who weren’t trained necessarily in traditional schools of education, who come from other fields.

[00:19:25] So I’m gonna be really excited. This is somebody that we’ve read, Gerard. I have never met him, but excited to speak. Dr. Richard Vedder. He is a Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute and Distinguished Emeritus Professor of Economics at Ohio University, which I’m pretty sure I’m not supposed to like Ohio University because, you know, I’m a U of M girl and grew up in the Ann Arbor area.  But excited for this professor. So we’ll be back listeners right after this. [00:20:00]

[00:20:29] Cara: Learning Curve, listeners today, we are pleased to have with us. Dr. Richard Vedder is a Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute and Distinguished Emeritus Professor of Economics at Ohio University. He’s also the founding director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity in Washington D.C.

[00:20:46] He is the author of Restoring the Promise: Higher Education in America. Out of work, unemployment, and government in 20th century America and the monograph can teachers own their own schools? New strategies for educational excellence and growing broke by degree. Why? College costs too much. I need to go back and read that his hundreds of articles and reviews have appeared in numerous scholarly journals, as well as in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The Christian Science Monitor, Forbes National Review, cnn.com, The Washington Times and Investor’s Business Daily, and he’s been interviewed on Fox News Channel, a ABC, NBC, Fox Business, CBS, PBS, C-Span, NPR, all of them, and many other TV and radio networks. Professor Vedder received his PhD in Economics from the University of Illinois, perhaps a fellow Midwesterner. Professor Richard Vedder. Welcome to the show. I’m delighted to be with you.  We’re really happy to have you with us today, so let’s jump right in.

[00:21:47] You are an accomplished economist and you’ve written a lot about labor markets as well as higher education. We would love to stop talking about COVID-19, but it’s pretty hard to do so, and certainly there seem to be a lot of ties between the big impact of COVID-19on the economy, the labor market.and what that means for folks who are students today. Can you share a little bit about what you’ve learned about what life might look like for folks who have been living through these sort of really crazy times?

[00:22:18] Dr. Vedder: Well, it is true. These are unique times. Only once. About once a century, I guess it turns out we have an epidemic of the magnitude that we have had a pandemic, if you like.

[00:22:31] One thing that I, I don’t know, you know, I could go on and on on all the various different effects that the COVID Crisis has had on the American economy. One that is particularly interesting to me is the learning effects that seem to be fairly pronounced and fairly severe, and if not permanent measured in centuries, at least in many, many years.

[00:22:58] About the loss of learning that came about as a result of Covid. The schools were forced or chose, depending on your point of view, I guess, to close for a period. They perhaps closed too long and too much, too aggressively put, too much faith. In online learning, etc., whatever it might be.

[00:23:20] There is some evidence that test scores took a, a plummet during this period. American learning is already relatively weak relative to that in other countries by many surveys. And this dint of COVID attacks were worldwide, not just in the U.S but nonetheless, it wasn’t a very good thing for our nation long term.

[00:23:47] Cara: I wanna talk a little bit about your recent book, Restoring the Promise. In the book you talk about the increasing crises on campus. That is that colleges and universities are facing a really uncertain and [00:24:00] unsettling future. Not just skyrocketing tuitions, but also crippling student debt, which some of us have and out of control federal student aid programs.

[00:24:09] Now, I think not only as parents, but listeners in general are really nterested in your take. I personally keep thinking Dr. Vedder, something’s gotta give with higher education. And I think I’ve been saying that for 25 years and it doesn’t seem to be giving. Can you discuss some of the features of your book and what you think about the future of higher education?

[00:24:32] Dr. Vedder: Well, you’re right. Things just something they had to give. And in some ways things are starting to give, if you want to use that term. We have fewer students going to college today than we did 11 years ago 2011 and quite a few, I mean, a couple million fewer a material drop in the number of students kids are starting to say and, [00:25:00] and no to college.

[00:25:02] And that is unique in American history for 300 years from the time Harvard was founded in 1636, right there in Boston, to the 20 years ago, 10 years ago, even enrollments tended to rise over time. There would be little disruptions for wars and depressions and so forth, but on balance, enrollments can kept going up, and now all of a sudden, for 11 years, they haven’t.

[00:25:31] Why? Well, one thing, college has become less affordable, in the modern times, which is somewhat unique because the economy has generally been getting more prosperous over time. Americans have generally been able to buy more. Things, whatever those things may be, travel bigger homes nicer cars, whatever we’ve been able to afford more.

[00:25:59] That’s not true. In modern times it’s not true from, say, 1980 on the cost of college was going up more than people’s incomes were. So college is becoming a more difficult thing to finance leading a course to massive debts college debts and the college debts. In turn, the government student financial aid programs, I think, are part of the cause of all of this.

[00:26:27] But anyway, college is becoming more expensive. Then there’s the issue of our students learning a lot. Well, we really don’t know for sure because we can’t measure, we don’t measure learning very closely. We don’t know if kids graduating from college are much smarter than, are much more knowledgeable or much wiser than those who entered four or five years earlier.

[00:26:53] We do know that 40% of the kids who enter a four year college do not get a bachelor’s degree even in five or even six years. That’s a pretty high percentage. So we have a lot of attrition. We have a lot of dropouts, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York tells us we have a lot of, underemployed college graduates people who are working as baristas and things like that are in past food restaurants or big box retail stores.

So we have a lot of problems. We’re not getting a lot of bang for our buck out of higher ed. Many are feeling, and this is on top of a whole variety of other problems, a decline in intellectual diversity in the schools and intolerance for free expression of ideas.

[00:27:43] There are other issues some people are upset about and with some justification, I think about excessive importance of intercollegiate athletics and so on. So there’s a whole variety of problems. It took me 400 pages to describe ’em all in the book, and so I can’t go into ’em in detail now, but those are a few of the problems.

[00:28:05] Cara: I’m interested to go back to something that you said, and that is related to, so I’m hearing you say that really the opportunity cost, the cost of the real cost of going to school doesn’t make sense for people anymore because they might not actually be able to repay back given what they can, their potential to earn.

[00:28:22] But can you, in the labor market, can you revisit something for me? And that is, I think I heard you say that there are many factors that are driving up the cost of higher education, and among them you said federal programs could be one. Could you talk a little bit about again, what are those factors that are driving costs?

[00:28:39] I’m also curious to know, Dr. Vedder is, as fewer and fewer people choose to go to college because they don’t see the point, they don’t see the return on in, is that certain types of people are we simply exacerbating access in opportunity gaps. And I guess the question beneath that is, Is it simply people who are lower in middle, maybe even upper middle income, are gonna choose not to go to college, but people who are wealthy will get their four year degree and, and continue to be able to earn higher salaries?

[00:29:10] I think that’s a, valid question. I haven’t seen data on the recent changes in enrollment by income classification of the people going, I mean, is the decline in enrollment exclusively among low income people or not? But there is growing evidence that college is not promoting income equality opportunity in the United States. And some would argue, and there’s some basis for this, that indeed we have created sort of an intellectual aristocracy, if you like. A group of privileged wealthy to prosperous people who are able to go to college, who are able to manipulate the system, and in some cases, able to use legacy [00:30:00] provisions of their college that their parents went to get admission and so forth.

[00:30:05] They get, they had special favors, and this is contributing to inequality in the United States. And I think there is some basis for this. so , that’s part of the problem. Another part of your question was, Why is everything becoming so much more expensive?

[00:30:23] One huge factor of course is we have more and more of the people who work in colleges and get paid by colleges don’t teach, they don’t do research, they do something else. They are what we might call administrators. And there is an enormous administrative bloat in American colleges and this is extremely expensive and it has added enormously to the problem.

[00:30:49] I don’t know if that answered your question, but it, dealt with it at least somewhat.

[00:30:53] GR: In fact, that’s a great segue for me to ask you a question since we’re talking about administrators. [00:31:00] So I recently read in The Wall Street Journal that Stanford University had more administrative staff and faculty than it did students.

[00:31:07] And you wrote last week in “Minding the Campus” specifically that there were 15,750 administrators, 2,288 faculty members, and 16,937 students. Would you share with us the relationship between the growth of higher education in terms of administration, tuition, and students? I mean, when I read this, I was actually shocked to know that kind of imbalance.

[00:31:36] Dr. Vedder: Yeah, even I was shocked. I may say so. I knew that administrative bloat had grown enormously, but those numbers were really breathtaking. as I said in my mining the campus column, I said, you could give every student at Stanford University, their own administrator, they could have a, call ’em a concierge, an academic butler or something. Everyone, every student could have their own administrator and there still would be over a thousand administrators left to do other things. And when I started teaching and I’ve been teaching forever – not. Since Harvard started in 1636 – but I’ve been starting teaching for six decades almost.

[00:32:22] And since the 1960s when I started teaching, I was at a school about the same size as Stanford in terms of numbers of students. But we had, instead of 18,000 administrators and faculty, we had. 2,500, 2000, 2,500 and the faculty outnumbered the administrators. And now the faculty at Stanford, there are six or seven administrators for every faculty member.

[00:32:51] And that’s expensive. That’s costly and it detracts from the academic mission because these [00:33:00] administrators, for the most part, are not teaching. They’re not doing research. They’re not expanding the frontiers of knowledge. They’re not talking about truth and beauty, they’re doing other things.

[00:33:11] And so it is distraction from the learning process and the discovery process, which is the heart of what a university is all about. So, I, think this administrative bloat is, an enormous problem. And a lot of it came about of outside forces that have come provided funds to higher ed, the largest nationally being of course related to the student loan programs.

[00:33:39] The universities say, “Hey, students can just borrow the money, so we’ll jack up our tuition fees!” And that’s what they’ve done for decades until very, very recently. And in doing that, they raised a lot more money in tuition revenues, and they spent a large part of that on administrative staff.

[00:33:59] GR: Well, speaking of California, and I’m sure our listeners are going to take a look at your, the article that you wrote, Stanford is the subject here, but also many of our listeners may be unaware that there was a weeks-long strike at the University of California and its system.

[00:34:15] And one way or another is going to impact the ideas about faculty and students. But just wanted to mention that for California. So lemme turn to another question. You’re pretty clear about what the purpose of higher education is, and many people are shocked when they hear that higher education is a business.

[00:34:31] Even though it has 501 status, it is still a business. I’ve had a chance to run nonprofits had five, you know, C3 status, it’s a business. When I studied marketing there were four Ps that we had to hold onto: product, place, price, and promotion. In your book, Restoring the Promise, you’ve identified three I’s of university: information, incentives, and innovation. Could you talk about how without having information, it’s impossible for taxpayers and governing authorities to ensure that public education is spending the way that it should, and importantly, that taxpayers have  some understanding about the broader issues related to funding and what it means for society.

[00:35:17] Dr. Vedder: That’s an excellent question, and it’s a complicated one. The average adult or the average potential college student is remarkably in ignorant about what colleges do. One of the reason is even some people who work at colleges are ignorant about what they do. Colleges are supposed to be in the information business, providing information to the broader public on a whole variety of things, we’re very, very secretive about what we do.

[00:35:49] Internally, we do not, for example, collect good information on What did students learn while they were in college? Do the seniors, or do the [00:36:00] seniors know more than the freshmen? How much more, how much of the learning occurs early in the college career in the freshman, sophomore year? How much comes late in the career? Does it vary a lot by major. Do students who say major in STEM disciplines or in engineering say mathematics, do they have a greater learning experience than those who major in English literature or in gender studies? We are remarkably secretive about these things. Our accreditors, the people that accredit schools and say whether they’re doing good or, whether they meet academic standards, they don’t insist on this information.

[00:36:42] And if they do, they don’t publicize it. Their reports are actually often secret. They’re not made available to the general public. So, there’s a real information gap that I think. Lowers the quality , of consumer awareness about learning and about colleges and leads to unfortunate outcomes at times. And that’s just, the tip of the iceberg. But that’s one aspect of it.

[00:37:08] GR: I’ve had a chance to work with two governors and both of them had a strong focus on higher ed. In Virginia. We actually created a. 21st. Well, it was called Top Jobs for the 21st Century Commission focused on higher education.

[00:37:25] And one of the things that our committee members came together to do was talk about transparency. Virginia has a great higher education institution both public and private as well as community college level learning. But there were a lot of people who simply had no idea how long it took students to finish something you’ve.

[00:37:43] Many thought I was four years and I realizing was six, seven. But there’s also the issue of future earnings. How do we know what students are doing once they leave college? 5, 10, 15 years after matriculation? What’s the roi? You talked about some of this in [00:38:00] your book. You’ve also had a chance to see it at the state level.

[00:38:06] Dr. Vedder:, I’m delighted by that question because I sort of got my start in this whole field in Virginia actually speaking at a conference for the Board of visitors of the various Virginia universities at the University of Virginia and at the invitation originally of Governor Allen. So, I find that interesting. You have that Virginia background. There’s so much ignorance about what the future’s going to bring. Kids who are entering college and so many majors have a very low rate of return on investment.

[00:38:51] And even though college is more than just an investment, it, there is a socialization dimension to college. People wanna have fun while they’re at college. They like to do other things besides learn. In spite of all of this, there is remarkable lack of information about this and the, magazines that rate colleges do a great job.

[00:39:13] I used to rank colleges, by the way, for Forbes Magazine, so I know I’m believer in rankings, but, they give sort of a generalized overall view of how a college is perceived, but they don’t tell you, how the English majors do or how they physics majors or economics majors do, or the marketing majors they give you just generalized information.

[00:39:36] And this is one of the, you know, my three I’s that you mentioned at the beginning where we’re deficient. And , the federal government to it’s credit –– and I very seldom say good things about the federal government – but the federal government has nudged the colleges and provided a little bit more information relating to earnings of students after graduation and so forth.

[00:40:02] But it is pretty primitive and really deficient. And you know, if you went in to buy a car, you don’t have any trouble. You, you don’t have magazine like Consumer Reports that help you dis uh, JD Powers and so forth that give you information about cars, whether they’re buy or bad buy, which is good, which is bad, what price to pay. Almost precisely everything. Do you have that same degree of confidence in buying a college education? I don’t think so.

[00:40:34] GR: Really good points. Let me just ask you one closing question. Community colleges, two year colleges, junior colleges, different names, different states play an important role in American education. I’ve heard good things and bad things about them. I’m a graduate of  adult community college in Los Angeles, and they’ve had a chance to teach at community college their population in the last few years in have grown in part in response to COVID-19 but also people who are returning to school for skill development, sometimes credential, sometimes licensure. What are your thoughts about community colleges?

[00:41:08] Dr. Vedder: Well, in general, I’ve been a champion of community colleges or an even broader a champion to alternative forms of education besides the traditional four year degree, which college community colleges are a big part. Community colleges are much cheaper than the traditional four year universities.

[00:41:29] It costs much less. They sometimes offer vocational training that is very practical and fills employment needs that we have that are the four year schools largely ignore. And, but in addition to community colleges, I would say they’re these new certificated programs that specialized schools are offering. An important example would be coding academies where they’re specialized schools are training students to learn to be good at computer programming and coding in the computer field and some of these schools developed some very impressive results of turning out a highly skilled workers who get paid a very nice amount of money in programs that are not four years long, not even two years long, in some cases, even less than some cases. And I think these are good. I think we ought to give a little more emphasis to these programs and a little less to the traditional four year.

[00:42:31] Cara: Dr. Richard Vedder. This has been a pleasure. Thank you so much for joining us today on the Learning Curve. I know you’ve given us a lot of food for thought. Gerard, and I will be talking about everything we’ve learned today after the show. So thanks for joining us and we wish you all the best.

[00:42:47] Dr. Vedder: Thank you. I enjoyed it very much.

[00:42:49] Bye-bye.[00:43:00] [00:44:00]

[00:44:51] Cara: we always close it out with our tweet of the weeks. I, I have to admit, You know, I’m not good on Twitter, Gerard, but I like reading other people’s tweets I’m just, I’m just not good at composing them. I don’t know about you. I think you’re much better than I am. This one that caught my eye this week is from Neil McCluskey. It’s pithy. We’ve had him on, so you’ll know he’s a pithy guy. and the question is, is this really how higher ed should be governed? And of course, the link is to a great article from inside higher. Outlining how the education department, we’re just talking about ’em at the top of the show.

[00:45:23] Now talking about them again, has a quote, ambitious regulatory agenda. I don’t know, Gerard, I get the feeling that maybe Neil isn’t for more regulations on higher ed, but nonetheless, this is a good read, an important read. We spend a lot of time talking about K-12 on this show.

[00:45:40] Gerard, you know a lot about higher ed and I can highly recommend this article to our listen. Next week Gerard, we are gonna be back. We’re gonna be speaking with David Garrow. He is a professor of law in history and distinguished faculty scholar at the University of Pittsburgh. I love Pittsburgh School of Law. He’s also of course a Pulitzer Prize winning author. So, Gerard, I’m looking forward to chatting you up again next week. Until then stay well watch your American football and we’ll have plenty to chat about next week. I’m sure.

[00:46:15] GR: And since you happen to mention Neil, I wanna give a shout out for his new book that came out recently called The Fractured Schoolhouse: Reexamining Education for a Free, Equal, and Harmonious Society.

[00:46:27] Cara: That’s a pretty cool title, The Fractured Schoolhouse. I’ll to check it out, have Neil back. All right, thank you Jar talking to you. Yeah, bye-bye.[00:47:00] [00:48:00]

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