Monday, April 11, 2005

Higher Education May Refer Only To Cost 

Steve Goodman, a consultant who help kids get into college, reports that parents are increasingly frustrated with both the cost of school and the political controversies that have erupted on many campuses.

With faculty and administrations leading the way, political correctness and posturing -- from both the left and right -- is reaching dizzying heights in the land of the ivory tower. And rising right along with it is the frustration of middle-class parents, who are growing increasingly resentful of paying sky-high tuition for colleges they see offering their kids a menu of questionable courses and politically absurd campus climates that detract from the quality of a university education.
Mr. Goodman points to some awkward moments at American universities:

Duke University found itself in a crossfire after voluntarily hosting an anti-Israel group's annual national conference. The president of Columbia University had to appoint a commission to look into student charges that certain professors, with whose views on the Middle East conflict the students disagreed, were attempting to indoctrinate and intimidate them. Hamilton College issued a speaking invitation to a University of Colorado professor who had written an essay arguing that the 9/11 attacks were a justified reaction to U.S. policies abroad. And locally, a ruckus broke out at George Mason University after it invited filmmaker Michael Moore to campus -- and then disinvited him after receiving political pressure from Virginia lawmakers to cancel the speech.
His story reminds me of my experience in the Masters of Public Administration program at George Mason University. I went there primarily because Walter Williams was at the economics department and therefore I thought that the school would have a libertarian or conservative bent. Instead, I found that all my professors were liberal. However, to their credit, my recollection is that if I wrote a paper from my perspective and I supported my ideas with credible research and quality writing then I would get an "A". In fact, I often find that liberals are more open to contrasting views then those on the other side. I am teaching a class their tomorrow afternoon so I will see if my observation is still true.

Regarding Mr. Goodman's comments on today's tuition costs, he raises an extremely good issue. Why are prices so high while at the same time schools sit on multi-million dollar endowments? His comment reminds me of something that was said during a recent seminar I attended on charter school facility financing. The instructor stated that the goal of schools should be to save some money so that they are able to afford a down payment on the eventual purchase of a building. But, she pointed out, banks lending money for this purpose also want to see that institutions are putting the great majority of their money where it belongs; namely towards the education of their students.

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