Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Pop Up VDH

Our continuing saga to make Victor Davis Hanson's classical references more user-friendly.

From the great man's blog entry yesterday:

All these thoughts I think explain the tragic-comic position of today's university presidents who Janus-like must talk like normal humans when courting alumni donors only to assume alien characteristics when dealing with their often lunatic faculty.

From the context of confusing, inconsistent rhetoric and political bait-and-switch, I thought it might be a reference to James Janos. That is not the case. A two-faced Janus rose to prominence much earlier in history.

Janus is the Roman god of gates and doors (ianua), beginnings and endings, and hence represented with a double-faced head, each looking in opposite directions. He was worshipped at the beginning of the harvest time, planting, marriage, birth, and other types of beginnings, especially the beginnings of important events in a person's life. Janus also represents the transition between primitive life and civilization, between the countryside and the city, peace and war, and the growing-up of young people.

The Hanson post in its entirety is terrific, BTW. This product of academia calling it out for its continuing abuses. Excerpts:

What are we to make of this increasingly corrupt institution, whose health is so necessary to the welfare and competitiveness of the United States? It brags that American higher education is the strongest on the globe, but that is largely true only because of the non-political and still untainted hard sciences, engineering, and informational and computer sciences -- and despite the humanities, particularly literature, philosophy, and history that have become increasingly ideological and theoretical.

We should at least insist on a little accountability from this increasingly medieval institution. After teaching some twenty years in the university and writing about its endemic problems, I keep asking myself the same questions.

Why does tuition continue to rise beyond the rate of inflation?


A good question, one largely answered by Richard Vedder:

The real reason for soaring college costs is higher demand for colleges, largely resulting from well-intended but dubious governmental policies. When demand rises relative to supply, prices (in this case, tuition fees) go up. Demand is rising partly for non-governmental reasons, such as higher incomes and a growing earnings differential between high-school and college graduates. But it is also rising rapidly because of the huge growth in government loan and grant programs as well as tuition tax credits. Pell grants, Stafford and Perkins loans, tax-sheltered college-saving schemes ("529 plans"), work-study programs, etc.: All serve to increase the number of students wanting a college education at any given price. Kids without money for college simply borrow it.

More here.

Universities are mostly nonprofit organizations, subject to only limited competitive forces, and lacking market-imposed discipline to economize and innovate. University presidents and other administrators see no personal gains from reducing costs. Major policy issues are decided typically in committees, where advocates of the status quo usually have the upper hand. With third parties (typically government and private donors) footing most of the bills, there is little fear that higher tuition will trigger a consumer backlash depriving the institution of needed revenues. Not surprisingly, per student costs of instruction are dramatically lower at the typical for-profit university where market discipline is much stronger.

If students receive grants or subsidized loans covering much of the cost of attending school, they become far less sensitive to tuition increases. The discipline of the market is not strong. In a free, unsubsidized market, consumers are sensitive to rising costs, and entrepreneurs seek to cut costs and lower prices to lure new customers away from others. But higher education does not work that way in America today.


Something to remember next time our new Democratic overlords start prescribing the dumping of billions of dollars more into the pot as a solution for the crisis of affordable education.

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