John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


Getting More Kids to College, Cheaper

Posted on October 15, 2009
Have we as a nation, collectively, gone insane?

I say that because, when it comes to higher education, we seem to have completely lost our way.

Clearly, getting more people to college is the best way to make America more competitive with the rest of the world.

The global economy has been really bad for those who can’t compete, because they don’t have a college education.

We don’t make many things anymore. We don’t make as many cars. We don’t do textiles. We don’t make televisions.

I wish we did, but we don’t.

But we do have the type of society that promotes innovation. Competition inspires invention. Creativity springs upward through our freedom of expression. Our system of laws, including intellectual property protection, provides the necessary platform from which we push forward, towards the new, the modern, the future.

Yes, the system is in the place to keep America on top of its game for the foreseeable future.

But the system only works if it has the people to make it work.

And these days, a vast college educated workforce is essential (if not necessarily sufficient) for our country to stay competitive with the rest of the world.

Quite obviously, it is much better to have a college degree if you want to keep a job. The latest unemployment rate is at 9.8 percent for all of Americans, but among the college educated it is less than 5 percent.

Going forward into the future, the only way to really succeed is to get a college eucation. The world has become too complex, skills have become too specialized, and manual labor has become too scarce (especially in the information age) to fully employ those who are not trained for the new workforce.

And that training comes in college.

So, why do we make it so hard to pay for college? Why do we make so many college kids mortgage their future through student loans? Why do we whack them with personal debt just as we whack them with national debt?

Are we completely nuts?

A college education should not be special privilege reserved for the special few.

A college education is a necessary component to training a workforce so that America can continue to be the leading beacon of freedom in the entire world.

We should embark on strategies that will get more kids to college without saddling them with debt.

That is what the Department of Education should be thinking of.

Over the past 30 years, the average cost of college tuition, fees, and room and board has increased nearly 100%, from $7,857 in 1977-1978 to $15,665 in 2007-2008 (in constant 2006-2007 dollars). Median household income, on the other hand, has risen a mere 18% over that same period, from about $42,500 to just over $50,000.

How does this make the American dream more available to middle class and working class families?

Here is an idea. We should establish several federal universities that attract the best teachers in the world. We should make those universities extraordinarily inexpensive, so that kids don’t have to take out huge loans to pay for them. We should require that once the students graduate from these federal universities that they spend at least a year and maybe more in a defined public service job.

We should have all the schools compete with one another, employing different educational techniques, different teaching philosophies, different perspectives to break up the liberal orthodoxy that tends to dominate college campuses today.

Would it be expensive? Not as expensive as not having a highly trained workforce, ready to compete with the rest of the world, would be.

Why do it at the federal level? Well, because states haven’t kept tuition prices down, and this would provide competition so that the states would do their job. Ideally, it will also provide competition to private universities, whose costs are completely out of control.

When Congress passed the GI bill in the years following the Second World War, critics thought it would cost too much, college presidents hated the idea of soldiers invading their campuses, elitists thought the great unwashed shouldn’t be invited to their schools. They were all wrong. The GI bill was the greatest thing that ever happened to America, providing the most talented, best educated workforce in the history of the world.

We need to take bold steps to replicate that success.