Colleges and Universities are Overrated

Keith Whittington writes at The Volokh Conspiracy about “The Partisan Split on Higher Education“:

A new Pew survey reveals that the partisan split that became visible a couple of years ago in public perceptions of American higher education has continued. In the long term, this cannot be good for American colleges and universities….

Colleges and universities are fairly distinctive in being non-political institutions that are nonetheless seen in increasingly partisan terms. There is an extensive conservative infrastructure now dedicated to publicizing the foibles of academia. Of course, the reality is that college professors and administrators lean heavily to the political left, though this has been true for decades. Republicans now perceive universities as politicized, partisan institutions….

[I]f Republicans continue to believe that on the whole universities are damaging American society, they are unlikely to try to defend them against misguided political interventions from the political left and are more likely to propose misguided political interventions of their own.

Colleges and universities are (and long have been) “political” institutions, as Whittington himself acknowledges. But that isn’t my quibble with Whittington.

His tone implies that he holds colleges and universities in higher regard than they should be held. But there isn’t anything sacred about colleges and universities. Free inquiry (which most of them no longer support) can go on without them. Advances in theoretical and applied science can go on without them, as long as there are free markets to support the development and application of scientific knowledge. In fact, colleges and universities have (on the whole) become so inimical to free markets that Americans would be better off with far fewer colleges and universities.

Sending kids to college has become conspicuous consumption. The practical value of colleges and universities is realized through courses that could be replicated by for-profit institutions. The rest — including the bloated, mostly leftist administrative apparatus — is waste.

(See also “Is College for Everyone?“, “College for Almost No One“, and “More Evidence against College for Everyone“.)