Parents, students and taxpayers ultimately footing the bill for the epic cost of college should have buyers’ remorse. “Tuition at Harvard in 1960 was $1,250, or $9,800 in today’s dollars,” George Leef of the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy  pointed out in remarks at a recent conference in Indianapolis. “Today, tuition at Harvard is $50,000.”
Here is how Harvard  itself breaks down its annual tuition:
|Health Services Fee||
|Student Services Fee||
|Estimated Personal Expenses||
|Estimated Travel Costs||
|Total billed and unbilled costs||
$57,950 – $62,950
Harvard, as its denizens will tell you, is special, but still a good illustration of what is happening to the cost of college nationwide. Nevertheless, the difference between the housing bubble and the higher education bubble seems to be that at least with the former, people got houses.
What students are getting out of their college years—other than debt, hangovers, and the chance to change their relationship status on Facebook several times over—is far from clear. “The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that a higher number of graduates are in jobs that do not require a degree,” Leef noted. Indeed, Enterprise Rent-A-Car brags about its highly educated workforce: “We hire over 8,000 college graduates a year.”
Leef spoke at the Atlas Economic Research Foundation Forum on International Education. “The reality, as I saw when I taught at Northwood University in Michigan in the 1980s, is that students are academically weak and disengaged,” Leef averred.
Currently, the American Institutes of Research  found, “Approximately 30 percent of students in 2-year institutions and 20 percent of students in 4-year institutions have Basic or below quantitative literacy.” In other words, “they are unable to estimate if their car has enough gasoline to get to the next gas station or calculate the total cost of ordering office supplies.”
Leef sees some good news in the development of online education. He points to the emergence of the so-called Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, and, specifically, sites such as Professor Direct, in which the student contracts directly with the professor.
Leef observed that Adam Smith himself endorsed such a system, arguing that under it, students learned more. “Writing in 1776, Adam Smith lamented getting away from the financing scheme of the ancient Greeks, famously noting that the quality of teaching fell at Oxford when students stopped paying the professors directly and gave their tuition payments to the university,” economist Richard Vedder , who spoke at an AIA event, wrote several years ago. .
Also, the chances for indoctrination abate somewhat when the student’s interactions with the professor are over a modem rather than in a lecture hall, Leef asserts.
Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.
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