The articles in this series are all based on the idea that a government’s role should be limited to civic matters; it should protect the people and provide infrastructure such as roads and bridges. However, it should not be involved with the pursuit of personal morality (the concept is further explained at the beginning of the first of these essays)
A fundamental principle to first acknowledge is that for a government to be truly uninvolved in any endeavor, it cannot be its source of income. Providing money entails issuing guidelines on how it can be spent. Providing a quarter of a budget thus translates into control over a quarter of the funded entity; paying three quarters means controlling three quarters. This reality is echoed in the old Yiddish saying, “Those who pay, have the say.”
Higher education might be more attainable and cheaper if the government stopped getting involved. Photo Credit: Annie Mulligan/AP
Accordingly, if the public voted to keep the government away from moral pursuits, it would no longer be allowed to fund them. This would have major ramifications on higher education, both in terms of the government’s aid to the universities themselves and the loans and cash now given to their students.
Science, math, engineering, medicine, and so forth are disciplines that produce practical and indisputable benefits to almost the entire populace. They are thus critical to a country’s civic well-being, and that should be a government’s concern. Accordingly, the departments that teach these subjects and their students would continue to receive government aid.The departments and students involved with subjects such as law, economics and accounting would receive a lesser level of assistance. Unlike attaining preeminence in math and science, attaining unrivaled excellence in these fields is not of such vital civic importance. Yet, these pursuits are central to the country’s economic and legal well-being.
Literature, philosophy, art, and music are different. To some extent, they teach thinking skills, but such is almost impossible to objectively measure. However, they also largely deal with humanism, the definition of which touches upon unprovable and hotly-debated moral premises. Those studies would therefore only be minimally funded by the government. It is not that these academic disciplines are unimportant. Rather, it is just that in the system being advocated herein, they would have to mostly operate independently of government.
How should the aid to education be apportioned? Were this assistance a “right,” it would have to be shared equally by all universities and all students. By the logic of this essay though, such money is only given because it serves the U.S.’s national civic interest. If so, more should be provided to the higher rated students and academic programs, for as a group, they will confer far greater total benefit upon the public whose hard earned money is being seized for this purpose.
Something like the “20-80 rule” should perhaps be in effect. The top 20 percent of the students and university programs would receive 80 percent of the funding distributed. But of course, many of the 80 percent group of schools and students willing to work hard enough could theoretically raise their status to the point of inclusion in the top 20 percent.
It is not that the 80 percent are unimportant. Rather, it is since the money is given in the hope that it will yield advances in areas vital to the U.S.’s well-being, it is more likely that something like 80 percent of these contributions will be made by the top 20 percent.
Some may argue that if this aid is mostly terminated, higher education will soon be for the wealthy only, and unavoidable, if not irreversible, class divisions within the U.S. will result.
My sense is that the very opposite is true. For decades, the cost of college tuition has risen at a far greater rate than inflation. I feel that this was largely due to the ready availability of government money. The universities know that almost all students would be able to afford an education due to public assistance. The schools were therefore free to largely ignore a free market reality, namely, the imperative to provide the best product at the lowest price.
If government aid for higher education were mostly terminated, a first consequence will be that attendance at the so-called party schools will plummet. If they will have to pay their tuition out of pocket, many if not most of their students will drop out – the party will no longer be affordable. Facing the loss of their jobs, the heads of those schools will suddenly need to attract serious students in order to replace those who departed. This will necessitate dramatically raising the academic standing of those universities while at the same time slashing tuition. Course offerings in the vital subjects will be strengthened and expanded, frivolous curricula and costly recreational programs will be eliminated, and uneducable students will no longer be admitted.
As this transpires, the already respected schools will be forced to fend off the new challenge being posed by the former party schools. They will therefore feel compelled to do even more to further raise their academic rating while at the same time lowering tuition. Not to be outdone, the newly emerging competition will retaliate by working that much harder to offer yet better schooling for even less money…and so on.
The nationwide end result will be an altogether higher quality American university system. Furthermore, tuitions might become so affordable that, as in days gone by, it may actually become possible to receive an excellent university education and pay for it in full by holding down a part time job while at school. Who would object to that?
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