Lewis Morris / Oct. 6, 2020

COVID and the College Scam

The value of higher education has been on the decline. Coronavirus made it worse.

The China Virus pandemic has impacted the way many industries do business. One industry that will most certainly be permanently changed is higher education. Many people don’t see colleges and universities as economic entities. Higher education doesn’t have magnates, nor does it exist on any stock exchange. But make no mistake: Higher education in America is a money-making proposition for administrators, professors, and grant managers, and they want to see profits just like the rest of us. And these days, they’re a nervous lot.

Until just a few years ago, college was an institution on the rise. Leftist demagogues like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, together with the ardent promoters and defenders of the ivory tower, insisted that a college degree was the only means to economic success and social stability. Being the isolated, out-of-touch, self-righteous lot that they are, university professors and administrators could never believe that a valuable education can be had in a machine shop, a vocational program, or anyplace outside of their hallowed halls.

Upstanding citizens always strive for our children to have a better life than our own, so we were willing to make whatever sacrifices necessary to get them into the best schools, come what may. Sacrifices consisting of second mortgages, foregoing vacations or even retirement, or pushing our kids into every extracurricular activity that could be crammed into a schedule with the hope of grabbing a college’s attention.

This perfectly admirable trait of the American character was exploited by the stewards of higher education so they could keep the diploma mill churning along. Once the populace was convinced that college was essential, colleges had a captive audience that could be manipulated economically and socially.

But three things happened in recent years that have loosened the stranglehold of colleges and universities. First, tuition rates skyrocketed. In many ways, we have Obama’s reorientation of the financial aid system to thank for that, because he greatly accelerated an already growing problem. Under the guise of making college more accessible, more families were given access to federalized aid and loans to put their kids through school. Just like with the housing bubble years before, when families who did not have the financial means to own a home were given loans they could never hope to be able to pay back, low- and middle-income families were tricked into believing they could send their kids to schools with exorbitant yearly tuitions.

These relaxed standards forced families to overextend themselves financially. Institutions could raise tuition without end. If taxpayers are subsidizing higher education, then colleges can charge whatever they choose. The ivory tower doesn’t care who’s picking up the tab as long as it gets paid. And it was of little consequence to academia if after the degree was earned, students and their families were saddled with crushing debt.

Then parents across the country began to get a whiff of just what’s being taught on college campuses. Where young people used to go to college to learn skills to obtain highly paid white-collar jobs, now colleges are little more than indoctrination centers of leftist ideologies. Courses and even entire degree tracks are dedicated to the deconstruction of American values and the capitalist system, and the vilification of white males. Higher education has mutated from being a stepping stone to a more affluent lifestyle to a reeducation camp dedicated to “fundamentally transform America.”

At a point when many parents have begun to question the cost and value of a college education for their children, along comes COVID-19. As economist Stephen Moore has asked, why are parents paying full freight to send their children to college when they have to take all their classes online and aren’t even allowed to leave their dorm rooms or congregate? In some cases, they’re not even allowed on campus. Many traditional schools have refused to refund or discount their fees to accommodate the new remote learning paradigm.

Higher education was already facing serious problems pre-COVID. The astronomical tuition and the toxic political and social environment on campus have become more than many parents and their children are willing to bear. There have been numerous college closures across the country in the last five years due to declining enrollments and over-leveraged institutions. Many more colleges are facing dire financial straits due to declining enrollment and shrinking state government support. Enrollment will now decline even further as students elect to wait out COVID rather than attend a virus hotbed at full price.

The China Virus may prove to be the incident that spurs a major course correction for higher education. Like any industry, when organizations are over-leveraged, when there is a glut of product and a sharp decline in consumer confidence, things will get messy. Expect more institutions to close because fewer people choose higher education, opting instead to pursue other paths. Then perhaps higher education will come back down to reality and become again what it was originally meant to be.

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