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ISI’s “ten train wrecks” are just that. English majors at Wesleyan, Bard, and Amherst may earn degrees without reading Shakespeare. At Holy Cross, “Radicalism in America” satisfies the history requirement. UC-Santa Cruz’s “Criminal Queer,” Macalester College’s “Feminist Sex Wars,” and Wesleyan’s “Key Issues in Black Feminism” are among the courses ridiculed by Choosing the Right College. Outside of the classroom, students may encounter a “May Hole” at Seven Sisters’ Bryn Mawr, coed bathrooms and dorm rooms at Connecticut’s Wesleyan, and an Orwellian “Department of Multicultural Life,” which attempts to “infuse multiculturalism into all aspects of campus life” at Minnesota’s Macalester.
The predictable result of this is oversocialized but undereducated graduates. The politicization’s role in dumbing-down the curriculum is compounded by mission creep in any number of areas: bloated administrations diverting classroom funds, teachers who don’t teach, and student life choreographed as though a college were a cruise ship.
Maintaining an institution devoted to everything but liberal arts is an expensive endeavor. When ISI reports that cost-of-college inflation has outpaced actual inflation by a 4-1 ratio over the last quarter century, there isn’t surprise from anyone who has observed the constant construction, overstaffed libraries, manicured greens, and bizarre administrative sinecures on so many campuses. More tuition dollars, more alumni donations, and more financial aid are required to keep the cash flowing—thus greater enrollments.
As more high school students choose college, more colleges choose to become high schools. The democratization of higher education is not without cost. It harms students, many of whom, ill-equipped for college, throw money at a diploma that proves a mirage. It harms colleges, which necessarily weaken standards to advance students. As the late William Henry explained, “Ultimately it is the yearning to believe that anyone can be brought up to college level that has brought colleges down to everyone’s level.” The reductio ad absurdum of this phenomenon is the rise of gauche, for-profit, degree mills selling just a more brazen, and cheaper, version of the expensive credentialism that so many colleges and universities market. The laws of supply and demand affect diplomas as they do widgets, potatoes, and money: the more in circulation, the less they’re worth.
The near-universal misconception of college as job training, as opposed to education for a citizen fit to govern both the democratic polity and his own leisure, may prove the pin that bursts the higher education bubble. Not only are the professions themselves better suited to train career aspirants, but the army of unemployed graduates suggests that students aren’t getting what they paid for. There may be one lesson that both dropouts and out-of-work graduates learned in school: Choosing the right college sometimes means choosing no college at all.
Daniel J. Flynn is the author of numerous books, including “Blue Collar Intellectuals: When the Enlightened and the Everyman Elevated America,” forthcoming from ISI Books this fall. He writes a Monday column for HumanEvents.com and blogs at www.flynnfiles.com.
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