In The Name Of Consolidation: A Psychological Warfare On Public Education and Enlightenment

When you think of the American universities that are pumping out our lawyers, doctors, and engineers into this century what words come to mind? “prestige”, “educated”, “smart”? Do you ever consider the phrase tax shelter? Many politicians and outspoken advocates on both sides of the aisle argue against and for free tuition, student loan forgiveness, overcrowding, raised testing standards. However almost everyone on both sides will say that higher education is good. Do know what any of this means though? In all of this noise is anyone arguing, why are we shifting the blame to students? Why are we shifting the focus on education, rather than on corporations and the laws in our tax code? Why are job fairs actually a threat to democracy? When you look into the history of how our public and private institutions have changed over the course of the last three decades, you will understand what we can to do change our course.

The very real truth I will be pointing out in this article, is the understanding that colleges and universities are no longer pools of education centers. Rather it could be argued that are in fact “brainwashing” youth of America entering the next economy, to benefit the largest donors that contribute to alumni organization. Is it any wonder that it is so expensive to attend? I am going to cover over the history of laws that were changed with each passing President, that made higher education so out of reach for the average American. This is the exact opposite of what our founders intended public institutions to be. Sit back and buckle up as we take another history lesson, and this time starting in the late 19th century during the victorian era. In 1795 three years after the formation of the United States the first publicly funded university was founded in North Carolina. Thomas Jefferson argued in his Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge, that higher education be provided as a public service as a mean to preserve our liberty which is dependent on an educated society. We were moving away from the farm and feudalism, and moving towards an open society of free thinkers and rebels. It was Thomas Jefferson that started his experiment Virginia State in 1819.

“Whence it becomes expedient for promoting the public happiness that those person, whom nature hath endowed with genius and virtue, should be rendered by liberal education worthy to receive, and able to guard the sacred deposit of the rights and liberties of their fellow citizens, and that they should be called to that charge without regard to wealth, birth or other accidental condition or circumstance” — Thomas Jefferson (1778)

During Lincoln’s presidency in 1862, he helped establish the first land grant colleges in the entire country, with the Morrill Land-Grant Acts. This was land gifted by the federal government to states that would be used for education benefit the masses that would funded by state taxes. This included some private universities as well such as MIT and Caltech.

The reality is for most of our country’s history, public and even some private colleges charged zero tuition to attend their universities. Education at one point in history was considered as a means to industrialize the west in fields of science, medical, civics and law, and technology. It was viewed that an educated society would give back to their community and thus it was in the public’s best interest to promote free public education. This included funding to NASA during the mid 20th century, which bounced back into the private sector. It was estimated that for every dollar spent on research, we saw more than a 1000% return on investment back into society. In 1960 California’s Master Plan for Higher Education included funding for free tuition on nine campuses, stating in 1868 that “admission and tuition shall be free to all residents of the state”. City University of New York did not charge tuition until the year 1976. UMASS Amherst was tuition free for most of its history, and the same went for the University Of Florida, and Chicago, and practically ever public college. For hundreds of years our country put a priority on receiving a higher education, and encouraged students to purse science and technology fields. This was publicly funded research and curriculum that was locally controlled and produced.

It was this education system that sent our men to the moon, invented the television, radio, first automobile factories, and cultivated some of the world’s greatest artists in the history of music, literature, and acting. So how did we change so drastically and how did this transformation occur? I would argue that the crisis we face today accumulated over a period of six decades. It was a combination of changes in our tax laws, and a psychological warfare against public education in the pursuit of economic stimulus that allowed loan companies to profit in large amounts. The shift that we witnessed really away from local education and into a consolidated mindset where all of a sudden every students was going to college encompassing massive amounts of debt was really the marxist model of to each according to his own ability. It was popularized by Bertrand Russell in his book published in the 1920’s and 1930’s in his various publications such as On Education and Education and the Social Order. It was the idea that children should not be pushed or browbeaten into careers that may be “too difficult” for them. It was the first idea behind self worth and identity, where you could be anyone and anything you wanted to be when you grew up, because you were entitled or guaranteed to education no matter what that would be. Prior to this social order and consolidated thinking,

Before this new era or idea of education, you pursued higher education because you wanted to be a doctor, a lawyer, or an engineer. That is exactly what the G.I Bill after World War II did for Americans. It moved our society towards massive funding for science and technology fields to create America’s scientists, architects, doctors, lawyers, judges, engineers. It was the era of NASA and space exploration, and America was leading the charge by educating millions of Americans in and out of the military in science. During the 1970’s we took a dramatic shift in a different direction. Instead of studying law and civics, we moved towards “social studies”. Instead of pursing nuclear physics and engineering and chemistry, we shifted more towards “language arts”. It was a form of disinvestment in our local communities as an industrialized economy.

“The dropout in civics teaching in high schools and grade below, is a phenomena that his been going on since the 1970’s and it was basically a politically inspired phenomena. The only absolute requirement on a public school today in civics, is a one half year course somewhere in high school. Which is about 75% less than it was when I was going to high school. Somebody’s got to take up the slack.” — Justice David Souter (1990–2009)

Let me explain further. When you think of funding for public education, where do you think it comes from? Today most funding for K-12 comes from both the Department Of Education and state taxes, but it wasn’t always this way. K-12 education used to be funded through local taxes and locally controlled communities, but in 1971 public education took a dramatic shift. A lower court decision by a California Supreme Court judge, ruled that local funding for education was Unconstitutional under an equal clause case in Serrano v. Priest (1971), as it was the opinion of the court that schools should receive equal funding across the board at the state level. This was the first set of court actions that took local control away from education in an attempt to uplift underserved and underfunded schools.

Boston city residents scuffling with the police in protest of forced bussing of their children in 1974.

When this happened protests erupted around the country. The argument was that some schools in less affluent communities were underfunded. This was pursued as a means of desegregating schools systems along with an era of forced bussing by well intentioned political activists. The old advent of moving to a neighborhood for the better school system would be a thing of the past. Prior to these rulings there were what you may consider historically black public primary and secondary schools, German heritage, “Little Hanoi”, “China Town”, and “Little Havana”. Really for most of our country’s history our communities were rather separated and this included education and this relationship built pride and community of culture.

Desegregation was used as another term for consolidation. Too many historians conflate separation with segregation. When Jim Crow was ruled Unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), it was ruled that the color of somebody’s skin could not determine their place of education. In other words laws on the books could not prohibit a child from attending school based on race. Forced integration was another concept all together. In 1999 federal appeals court forced Boston to stop its racial preference guidelines, after a white student was denied access to Boston Latin School.

“I am against racial segregation. It is the imposition of the will of a stronger race on the will of a weaker one. That is wrong. Separation, on the other hand, is the free choice of one group to separate from the other for the good of the group. It does not deny the rights and privileges of any other group. Although our schools were not perfect, our children learned more, and there was more discipline when we had our own code of ethics, supported by our own Parent-Teacher Associations. Policemen (resource officers) were never seen at our schools. They were not needed. Our parents provided all the discipline that was needed.” — Rev. Floyd Rose

The ultimate result ended in taking local power and control away from schools. Similar court rulings and changes to tax law took place around the country heading into the 1980’s. This was around the time schools started to remove industrial training from the classroom and extra curriculum such as automotive, woodworking, machine, engineering, chemistry, sciences, music education, choir, painting, planned parenting, and school newspapers. Before this time the public school was viewed as a community endeavor, because local students and workers would contribute back to the local economy. More tragically this now starved state funding for higher education, as now states had to pool their resources for secondary education to support high schools, middle schools, and elementary schools. California went from having the best funded schools in the nation with the highest literature rates, amazing art programs, vocational programs, and highest mathematics scores, to the worst funded schools in the nation with some of the lowest literacy rates. In 2019 the National Assessment of Educational Progress found that close to half of California students could not read at grade level. This is directly tied to the consolidation of public education that was touted in the name of desegregation.

How Proposition 13 Transformed Neighborhood Public Schools

The argument was that some schools in less affluent communities were underfunded. This was pursued as a means of desegregating schools systems along with an era of forced bussing. The old advent of moving to a neighborhood for the better school system would be a thing of the past. It can also be said that this solution brought all American schools down. Similar court rulings and changes to tax law took place around the country heading into the 1980’s. This was around the time schools started to remove industrial training from the classroom and extra curriculum such as automotive, woodworking, machine, engineering, chemistry, astronomy, sciences, music education, choir, painting, planned parenting, and school newspapers. Before this time the public school was viewed as a community endeavor, because local students and workers would contribute back to the local economy which made up the industrial base of the nation in the form of manufacturing and military might. This was a time period when the United States were the world leaders in math and science education, and you also have to remember this is a time period when we also had a military draft that focused on these careers or encouraged Americans to get involved with their nation’s industrial output.

New York high school students visiting Atomic Exhibit at Indian Point nuclear plant in early 1960's.
Industrial engineering and shop class at California’s Anaheim City School District in the year 1957.
Waltham, Mass students being taught to build a telescope mirror on November 17th, 1972.

“I’m an engineer that does all his engineering on the computer. I started learning metalworking. I agree, the building process is incredibly relaxing as I focus on not pushing out my thoughts as quickly as the computer can suck them in, but instead working at the pace of the machines and responding to them. It taught me a great deal.” — John Simon

At one point in history public education was really science and industrial based, where it was a prerequisite to get involved in engineering. When we moved towards greater amounts of standardized testing and more towards a service or financial economy rather than an industrial economy. Vocational schools are not really put an emphasis on technology and industrial learning either. Many trade schools are highly underfunded and outdated, and focus on trades which are frequently becoming automated over the next decades. For example, you cannot go to a trade school to learn about biochemistry, robotic engineering or manufacturing. You can’t go to community college either to learn about engineering or careers in civics and law. If that is the case that what is the education we are promoting?

We actually saw a similar shift happening at state universities, with lot less emphasis and funding for engineering plant and production trades such as construction/civil, architects, city planners, mining/tunnel, agriculture/food production/farming, steam/turbine, aviation, nuclear, astronomy, chemical, ecology/environmental, and electrical/mechanical out of the many possibilities in the STEM and manufacturing careers. States universities are putting more emphasis on business degrees, and it’s now impossible to work in economics without a masters. Nothing perhaps is more apparent than the disappearing school field trip. Once a common sight to see a class visiting a nuclear power plants, military bases, history and science museums, has now seen a sharp decline in recent years. Brookings Institute reported that more than half of schools in the United States have abandoned the field trip as well as engineering courses all together.

Fewer field trips mean some students miss more than a day at the museum

The year would be in 1969 when President Nixon introduced the Lottery Draft program for Vietnam, removing for the first time in America’s history the exemption from the draft in STEM fields. At the same time Nixon made the decision to end the Apollo manned space flight missions and as a nation we would never return to the moon again, removing the photograph of the Earthrise a lasting artifact of human exploration from the oval office. All of a sudden our nation took away the incentive for young and bright students of the country to making the deciding factor of serving their country either through the military or through a field in engineering and science, and we instead began to farm out to other nations for workers. It could be argued that in that era was the first actions that moved us away from being the leaders of science, as we were one of the few democracies to introduce such a draft program. Today there is zero incentive to serve the country’s industrial base, and we saw this observing the college entry rates.

Nixon meeting with science adviser Lee DuBridge in December 1969 to speak about continuing Apollo.

When Nixon Stopped Human Exploration

“The college entry rate of young men rose from 54 percent in 1963 to 62 percent in 1968 (the peak year of the draft). Moreover, both the college entry rate and the number of inductions dropped sharply between 1968 and 1973 as the draft was being phased out” — Berkely College

At the same time Nixon closed down hundreds of military bases across the country under the Nixon administration that left many with degrees in the form of G.I Bills, eliminating close to 50,000 federal jobs in the United States in April of 1973. Including Westover Field in Chicopee, Otis Air Force Base on Cape Cod, and Boston Navy Yard among many of the Army and Navy shipyards which were closed down during the oil crisis. This was the first shift away from an industrial economy and into a consolidated education system as we shifted towards a service based economy.

Now that states had to pool new massive resources into secondary education to make up for the loss in local taxes as well as a massive drop of student enrollment from local students who were now fighting off in war, we saw massive cuts for higher education on the state level across the country. Historically state funding for higher education is at an all time low. This shifted the cost from the state, to the students attending the college. In 2020 California Governor Gavin Newsom announced he would be slashing funding for community colleges and state universities by $1.7 billion. From 2008–2018, state funding per students was decreased by more than 30% in six states, with 41 states in the country in that time period seeing a 13% drop in funding. From 1988–2018 the average decrease in state funding came out to be 25% in that time. Prior to this century on average the funding for state colleges in the year 1981 averaged to around 51%. Today the same proportion has dropped to 28%

So what did universities do in response? They did many things to address the drop in funding, but one of the more obvious ones was forcing students to start paying tuition and raising fees starting in the 1970's. The phenomena is known as “race to the bottom”, where it is estimated that by the year 2059 states will completely disinvest from higher education all together. By then state funding for higher education is due to run out. This is where the role of Jimmy Carter’s Department Of Education came into play. In the late 1970’s after communities were forced to disinvest in their schools, students were now experiencing a financial crisis. They turned to the federal government for help, and the Carter administration had a new idea that was reported to save public education at the time. Since a university’s operating cost was now placed onto the individual student, Carter setup the first federal student loan program in 1979 that gave access to unlimited interest free loans. This would not have been predicted at the time, but this move setup the environment which would later morph into private control over our public and local institutions funding mechanism. It gave a federal department power through money to dictate what local school and university curriculum would be, and brought us to the student loan crisis we are facing today.

How did they do this you ask? At the same time we created the Department Of Education we also passed a major change in our education laws. Senators Bob Dole from Kansas and Senator Birch Bayh from Indiana convinced President Carter that we should open up funding for science and research programs to the private sector. For most of our country’s history if any private company was caught giving money to a high school or university, it was considered a form of bribery and you would go to jail for a very long time. With bipartisan support the Bayh–Dole Act was passed in 1980. This is the piece of legislation that would be used to springboard the privatization of curriculum and justify more cuts to public education.

Senators Birch Bayh and Bob Dole photographed in 1980 discussing the future of the Bayh-Dole Act.

“Each year the NIH has a science fair in which they ask commercial interests to come to Washington DC and look at the discoveries that were made during that year, in the hopes that industry will buy those discoveries. If the NIH had done something like that, any government employee in 1961 would have gone to prison for life.” — Leonard Hayflick

Prior to this law it was presumed that all discoveries and research made at public universities could not be licensed to private companies, and would have to be given away to only serve the public good. That’s how we developed and solved every vaccine and pandemic in world history, from polio vaccine at University of Pittsburg, and MMR vaccine at University of Pennsylvania. No company could hold a patent on any scientific discovery until this time. Bayh–Dole at first originally restricted large businesses from the right to retain title to their federally funded inventions. In other words it only allowed nonprofit organizations and small businesses to benefit from research conducted by universities, but it did not allow large corporations to buy patents and retain the exclusive rights and control the curriculum and textbooks. That was something we had never seen before.

The 1980’s would spark a new populist movement from Republicans to nominate and elect Ronald Reagan. One of his campaign promises was that he would shut down the Department Of Education, and return our education system back to locally controlled schools on the state and local level. He failed on this endeavor, and instead exasperated the problem by signing EO: 12591 in 1987 which amended Bayh-Dole to say, now corporations could own exclusive rights on all research conducted at schools. On top of massive cuts to the Department Of Education which only enticed colleges to raise tuition even more heading into the 1990’s, this effectively privatized all forms of science and technology education, to the point where most funding for public colleges now came from private industry and private donations.

Public Universities Get an Education in Private Industry

“Many in the scientific community and academia do sign the NDAs — creating blind spots that make it impossible for the rest of the world to discern whether a corporation has had any undue influence on research. I spent a year poring over documents and talking to universities, companies, lawyers, and researchers to figure out what kind of role corporate funding plays in public-university studies across the United States. Nearly all of the people I spoke with talked about the increasing ease with which corporate representatives have access to researchers, although some were more comfortable with the arrangement than others.” — The Atlantic

This is one way colleges have made up the gap in funding. States colleges seeking more revenue have increasingly reached out for donations from some of the largest Fortune 500 companies in America, to the point where a greater portion of a public college is privately funded, more so than even many private colleges. This includes funding for curriculum, kickbacks for professors, and. The University Of Texas accepted more private donations in 2018 than Yale, Stanford, and Princeton to the tune of $31 billion in endowments. University of Michigan received $12 billion in that same year.

The top medical schools in America have close relationships to the insurance and pharmaceutical companies. Engineering schools have a close relationship with defense and weapons industries. Business and economics schools have close relationships to big banks and big telecom. Obviously private but also public universities receive substantial funding today from companies like Allstate, ExxonMobil, ConAgra, Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo, Monsanto, Verizon, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Disney, Google, and Coca Cola as they look to makeup for cuts in education funding. The worst part is that these corporations can pool their revenue in the form of a donation as a tax shelter, influencing research and curriculum that will directly benefit them. At the same time colleges can accept an unlimited amount of endowments without being taxed because they are labeled as “non-profit”. All of this would have been considered illegal even at private colleges until recently.

The looming decline of the public research university

Heading into the 1990’s students were facing an increased crisis when public colleges began raising rates at exponential rates to compensate for cuts to education at the federal level, and many were turning to a slick talking southerner from Arkansas who could play a mean saxophone. Bill Clinton was elected into office with a promise to address the student loan crisis, and pull our economy out of the major recession that Bush entered us in. After all it was the “economy stupid”, and Democrats were eager to join the club in trying to garner back support they lost to Reagan Democrats.

In 1996 Clinton did just that by privatizing Jimmy Carter’s student loan program Sallie Mae, and this allowed one giant corporation to start charging interest on student loans and brought us into the current crisis we face. This followed the repeal of Glass-Steagall banking regulations in 1999 which prevented investment banks from merging with commercial banks, and invented the idea of handing out investment loans for revenue

Now we must understand that this setup the idea of privatized elementary, high schools, and universities which was solidified when local control was taken away and power was handed to states at first and then the federal government. President Bill Clinton in 1994 also signed the “Improving America’s Schools Act” (IASA) which received bipartisan support. For the first time the federal government said a public school would be required to give 6 high-stakes standardized tests which at the time was controlled by the state in order to receive funding from grades 3–12. For the first time the federal government was influencing curriculum by what programs would receive the most funding. For the first time tests would not be graded by a human teacher in your classroom, but by a computer robot on the other side of the country. The early 1990’s was the beginning of the decline of funding for the arts and what we now call “extra curriculum” activities.

President George W. Bush photographed signing landmark legislation No Child Left Behind in 2002.

This was expanded in 2002 when George W. Bush signed No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), which rose the number of required tests from 6 to 14. NCLB also adopted a federal teacher evaluation for the first time, that based a teacher’s existence on published test scores. If you attended school between 2002 and 2015 and noticed new teachers that did not have tenure frequently leaving, this was why. If a teacher scored well, they were promoted with incentivized pay raises and gifts from Department Of Education. In 2009 President Obama signed “Race To The Top” initiative which further pushed funding and subsidies for high score testing schools during the recession when schools were desperate for any funding. Opponents argue that it is the schools that test the lowest in need of the most funding. The legislation had many flaws.

“The decline of education and civics education has been going on since the aftermath of the Vietnam War. It’s a product of our history that began back in the 1970's. It’s sad to say that the biggest stunbling block is No Child Left Behind. For every hour that is taken away from that kind of teaching and put into sciences and civics, there is a risk of lower tests scores and lower test scores are terrifying to the educational establishment. These subjects are being taught at rates roughly 70% less then when I was going to high school.— Justice David Souter (1990–2009)

What about large testing companies like Pearson and McGraw Hill? If you attended school after 2001, you would notice your textbooks were written by the testing companies themselves. You were in fact being taught to the test. In 2018 Pearson revenue was $680.8 million dollars, and McGraw Hill pulled in a revenue of $1.6 billion. Before NCLB these companies were non existent. In just a decade Pearson profits rose almost 200%. Pearson controls 80% of the market after buying out textbook companies. If you wanted your school to get good test score, you had to teach to the test. So it is a fact that the curriculum provided in public schools today does have a profit incentive controlled by a few companies based outside of the United States. Is this a good thing?

Pearson’s 887,000 SF facility located in the Rockefeller Group Foreign Trade Zone in Cranbury, NJ.

This goes along with more stringent SAT and ACT requirements to get into college universities and curriculum that is more geared towards passing these tests. These were really started in an attempt to give lower income students with higher IQ’s the chance at scholarships. However this created an environment where other forms of education are considered a last priority such as sciences and civics. For example at the height of the GI Bill in 1951 for example, the SAT’s were only being administered to 80,000 students each year. At the heigh of NASA’s space race in 1961, the ACT was given to roughly 75,000 students. In the year 2020 that number has risen to 2.2 million students having taken the SAT’s, and 1.67 million students having taken the ACT. More consequentially this affects the opportunities a student is given for college advancement, even if they have better strengths in other subjects. This has also had a large impact on rating teachers based on testing evaluations, which has been one of the ways school districts have been able to work around labor unions. This is 100% factual because in 2015, the government admitted they had signed a flawed bill that allowed multinational corporations to take local control away from education. In 2015 before leaving office President Obama repealed No Child Left Behind, and replaced it with what is now called Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). This bill did two big things. It removed some federal teacher evaluations based on solely testing scores, and it removed the language that said a school could be shut down if it did not score high enough. However, testing requirements are still put in place. Common core has not improved testing scores, but it has completely removed the priority on other fields of studies that are not tested for. We see this in change of teachers.

“US students slipped from being ranked 18th in the world in math in 2000 to 40th in 2015, and from 14th to 25th in science and from 15th to 24th in reading.” — National Center For Education Statistics

https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/pisa/pisa2015/xls/table_m1.xls

https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2002/2002116.pdf

Why would the teachers that care about their students and take their career seriously go along with this? If teachers were looking out for their students best interest, why would they go along with this common core testing model? Maybe the greater truth is they didn’t. Many school districts took to this approach very wisely. They started putting in superintendents in school districts across America that were very much union busters and they went around busting unions. They went around busting unions, and it came to a tipping point with the decision of Janus v. AFSME (2017) which overturned Abood v Detroit Board of Eduction (1977) that said a union could force union dues on non union teachers. Even though the Supreme Court under Jimmy Carter said otherwise, the non union teacher was now viewed as a right to work. If we take a closer look at salary statistics we can see this is happening. Since 1991 the amount of teachers in schools with 35+ years of experience have gone down drastically, while the teachers with less than 5 years of experience have gone drastically higher. This as schools across America over the last two decades have began hiring outside of the union, and as we push school choice which has led to the privatization of education.

The high salaried teachers in the teacher’s union that had pensions were weeded out, because they were a labor union that had a governing board over the decision of what a standardized testing system and curriculum would be. The Teacher’s Union today has less rights than they ever had historically. Less rights to teach their students, salaries were cut, and teachers with tenured were weeded out of the system. This also went along with the lifting of mandatory residency requirements that said a teacher had to live in the area they are teaching, as no teacher in their right mind would want to live in the slums of a city in order to address underserved schools. This however was another step that weakened labor union rights but adopting teacher evaluations based on high stakes testing models. Private schools in this matter can be far different in some cases. Unlike public schools private schools are free to choose their own tests and have more freedom when it comes to writing their own curriculum because they can charge tuition which in theory picks up some of the slack. Also there are some holdouts. As of 2019, Alabama, Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia, Alaska, Nebraska, Indiana and South Carolina have never adopted common core standards. However those states have their own standardized tests they enforce on local schools.

The last two decades we have seen the environment in which some critics argue curriculum and text books have been “dumb downed” in order to produce better testing scores. Here are a few questions to ask. Is it wrong that private testing companies making the tests and writing the textbook curriculum has vested interest in ensuring their results produce a favorable outcome? Do we ask ourselves why every student makes the honor roll, and why it is not unacceptable to get C’s and B’s in the classroom? Is it further wrong that every high school now ensures that all students apply to college to ensure that money keeps rolling into universities which are rewarded kickbacks in the form of federal grants? Is it wrong that public universities allow private corporations to own exclusive licenses on research, and fund and write curriculum which is produced in America’s top colleges? Is it wrong that only two corporations can collect interest and profit from student loans? Is there any correlation between this and rising tuition? Did the federal government unintentionally create the student loan crisis?

How does all of this correlate to student debt anyways? If we take the year 1990 you would see that less than half of American students left college with student debt. From 1990 to 2013, the amount of debt held by students in America rose by 352%. In just the last ten years alone, the cost of attending public college since 2010 rose by 30%. If you go back even further, costs for attending public college have increased by 143% since 1963. Forbes Magazine reports that the cost of attending college is rising 8 times faster than wages.

Here’s how much college cost the year you were born

“The financial services company estimates that during the 1963–1964 school year, the average student paid the equivalent of $9,818, in 2017 dollars, for tuition, fees, room and board. During the 2016–2017 school year, students paid approximately $23,091 to cover the same costs.” — CNBC

Not only would an educated society be better off for our economy, it will also in the literal sense save lives and empower women. In the last two decades at an alarming rate, we have seen woman turn to what are known as “sugar daddies” to help pay down their college debt in return for sexual favors. This is a form of trafficking and prostitution and in many cases is illegal but often goes unreported. Our own FBI has reported there to be a 20–30% increase rapes on campus. Human trafficking is also on the rise at our college campuses. I know this personally. At the University Of Connecticut they had to give a human trafficking warning out to students who are approached by a fake modeling agency on campus. This happened to my sister when she was almost trafficked in Connecticut. This is a serious problem, and women would not do this if many of them could afford their higher education.

Fake Modeling Scout Accused in Sextortion Scheme

Now universities have not only raised costs onto students to make up for the gap in funding, they have also farmed out their recruitment into areas outside of the state they are residing in and in many cases out of the country. Universities found out that if they started charging substantially more for out of region students, they could increase their revenue substantially. Preferential treatment are increasingly being put on outsiders that offer to bring in higher tuition, and thus overcrowding and competition has increased to lengths that would have been unheard of in the last century. American colleges have seen a 700% increase of international students since the year 1970, while the American population in that time period has only increased 60%. During President Obama’s two terms in office, the number of international students attending colleges doubled after financial aid for international immigrants were expanded. This has been paired with receiving massive amounts of donations from foreign countries like China, Saudi Arabia Qatar, and UAE to some of America’s finest public and private institutions. This was uncovered after an Education Department investigation in 2020.

Colleges and Universities Fail to Report Billions in Foreign Donations

“This is about transparency. If colleges and universities are accepting foreign money and gifts, their students, donors, and taxpayers deserve to know how much and from whom. Moreover, it’s what the law requires.” — Secretary of Education Betsy Devos

The report noted that less than 300 out of the 6000 colleges in the United States reported receiving foreign money each year, but it was found that a large number of donations had gone unreported for decades. In response to this California schools have been one of the more actively engaged in combating this issue, but being the first and only university system in the country to put a cap on non resident enrollment in 2017.

Under Trump’s administration the first taxation on mega-endowments in our nation’s history were established in the 2017 tax reform, that actually received praise from many progressive groups and public think-tanks.

Top universities should be taxed under ‘tax the rich’ logic

So the questions to ask are, why should we fix this problem and how do we approach a monster we created? You commonly hear the word “free tuition” thrown around on the political arena, but when you look at the total cost of education, eliminating tuition does not chip off much of the cost. Majority of what college students are paying at public universities are in the form of fees and operating costs, and rise in housing which free tuition does not address. I used my state in my research. The cost of tuition at UCONN for a local resident in the year 2020 only made up 42% of the total cost of attending. Most of the cost is thrown into “campus fees” such as operating, technology maintenance, books and supplies, healthcare, meal plans, and room and board. Typical areas that used to be covered on the state level through local funding and subsidized housing. Eliminating tuition does not address the these areas of much needed funding and may even make the situation worse.

Chart published on UCONN’s website showcasing breakdown of fees for full-time student in 2020.

Think of the consequences. If the federal government says they will cover 100% of the cost of tuition to any college in the nation, then what is to stop a university from still raising fees and costs, if there is no limit on what will be covered? Universities would love subsidized tuition at the federal level, because it would give them the platform to increase revenue, when consolidation and expansion is exactly what has led to increased cost. More importantly, subsidizing tuition would disproportionally benefit international students who are charged twice the amount of tuition over local residents. In reality local residents and taxpayers will be forced to pick up the tab. Free tuition also does not address students who are already in debt. There has never been a definite answer from politicians in office when asked the question, will undocumented immigrants for example have access to subsidizes college tuition. After all we know they already have access to subsidized unlimited student loans and we can see this in the rise of international students attending state universities across the country

Which brings up another sad development happening around the institution of higher education, and that is the banishing of fraternities or “frats” and sororities. Long viewed a symbol of partying, drugs, and sex, they actually served a very important purpose and that is housing. For most students attending state universities or even private colleges like Harvard, many would opt into signing up for a fraternity because the cost of housing would be so low. When a group of 10 or 12 students can pool their money together into a single housing unit, it brings down the cost of housing significantly. State universities have unintentionally taken that support away and new college students are suffering because of it.

Colleges are suspending Greek life, but don’t expect the ban to last

Why it’s so difficult to abolish sororities and fraternities

In the last three decades, college boards and the authorities have tried to root them out of existence such as fire codes which only allow a certain amount of people to be housed in one building, noise ordinances, new rules landlords have to go by when putting a home up for sale, and simply the boards of colleges choosing to stop funding and supporting them for their relationship for association with hard partying and drug use. In the year 2014 four state universities eliminated fraternities all together by banning them, Massachusetts, Connecticut, West Virginia, and Clemson University. In 2017 three more universities started phasing out fraternities after the death of Timothy Piazza at Penn State, University of Michigan, and Ohio State. There are now calls to banish fraternities at Duke, Tufts, and Vanderbilt. At a time when housing continue to rise this is alarming.

A real solution would be returning education back to state and local governments, if your ultimate goal is reducing size and costs. Force states and local communities to take responsibility for their schools again. Stop subsidizing unlimited students loans in the hands of two corporations, including farming out subsidies to international students over local residents, when universities are already overcrowded and competition unrealistic. If your goal is truly to reduce costs, then you must downsize the burden of responsibility. Too many universities today are treating their institutions like a large business instead of a sacred place of enlightenment and critical thinking that should prepare students for actual jobs in the workforce, and the federal government has enabled them to act in this manner.

“Writing didn’t used to be a profession that it is now. For instance in the United States there are all these writing schools, graduate programs in writing. A they cost about $60,0000 a year, and B you can’t teach people how to right. There was was one when I was young, there was University of Iowa writer’s workshop, there may have been one or two others. Now there are just dozens and dozens of these things. It really wasn’t a thing that most people’s parents would want them to do when I was growing up, and now they do because that’s how they pay for these graduate schools. So now it’s kind of like being a dentist, so you go to school and now you can become a writer or an artist. However, that’s not true. I always say what do you teach them, and they always say I teach them how to read. I think, well then you should call it a reading degree. The reason you can’t teach people liberal arts, is because writing and art is a talent, and you cannot teach people how to have a talent. Talent is the most democratic thing in the world because it is absolutely randomly scattered among the population. It’s not a thing that’s genetic, it’s not a thing you can buy, it’s not a thing you can teach. There are many people who go to art and writing school who have careers, but a career is not the same thing as ability and talent.” — Fran Lebowitz

We are going to hit a breaking point. It’s not a matter of if, it is a matter of when and when the student debt bubble pops, it will pop in a similar manner like the housing bubble popped and collapsed the economy. We cannot continue education under the guise of a common core which enables large testing corporations to use education as a means to enrich themselves. It would be in the best interest of states to allow schools to follow their own guidelines and curriculum again, so universities can become a state institution again. As late as the first half of the 20th century colleges did not need to charge tuition because we had state funding for higher education. Then the university would not need to farm out research to corporations, and transfer operational costs onto students attending just to stay afloat if we established an economic model which encouraged funding for education again.

A great film that was produced in 2014 by CNN called Ivory Tower showcases this very real issue incredibly well. Unfortunately today we have become so dependent on this system that it is hard to say if we will ever return to a country without student loans. If the Department of Education’s original goal was to help students achieve greater success, it has failed under immense proportions. Who is going to turn off the faucet? In my view, I feel the United States would be better served in following what other developed democracies are doing when they put education and science at the forefront of their industrial base. That is how we once operated our economy and political structure. With the adoption of standardized testing we have moved away from that model of civics, science, and engineering with an emphasis on manufacturing. We have a golden opportunity in this century to bring back that spark of cultural identity we witnessed during the space race, and we can rebuild our economy by putting industrial eduction at the forefront of every thing we do. Should that involve bring back a military draft of some form? Perhaps not combat, but right now there is zero incentive to pursue this category of education and we are depriving a large chunk of students with strengths in visual and hands on learning. We would be foolish not to pursue anything different.

Independent writer outside of Boston.

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