Skyrocketing tuition fees. Administrative upheaval. Rants on campus. Each of these issues presents a unique challenge for students and their families, as well as for taxpayers and policy makers. Taken together, they represent a crisis.
As students return to school, voters, taxpayers and policymakers are asking: can higher education be saved? A better question – and one that promises a more substantial answer – is being asked by entrepreneurs and venture capitalists: can higher education be rebuilt?
The rot in academia
Most colleges and universities in the United States need more than reform. The rot is palpable. Taxpayers should be appalled by the so-called “loan forgiveness” proposals because no one is forgiven – the costs are just changing. President Joe Biden’s administration wants to offload all loan costs onto taxpayers. Federal authorities have already begun the process by carving out certain groups of students for forgiveness, such as students at some for-profit colleges, while giving a so-called “fresh start” to students who were in default before the pandemic. Taxpayers, whether they know it or not, are already paying for these expenses.
Meanwhile, universities have suffered from red tape for years. Policymakers should question school budgets and the growth of departments committed to so-called “diversity.” Non-teaching expenditures for student services and administration are growing at higher rates than teaching-related expenditures.
Given the proliferation of diversity desks, why are students still weighing the cost of sharing their opinions out loud lest they be cancelled? Apparently these offices are created to make more students feel welcome. But campus climate surveys show that students are afraid to speak up inside or outside of the classroom. Headlines continue to report that bashing and other instances of campus censorship have sadly become commonplace. Administrative red tape and enthusiasm for diversity have not made universities more civil.
“It’s nothing new for conservatives to send their kids to liberal schools,” education entrepreneur Robert L. Luddy said in an interview. “People think about the status quo. They send their children there and don’t think about it.
Create competitive alternatives
Luddy has established private schools in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia that teach programs based on classic works of literature, science, and history. He is now applying the same technique to higher education. “In recent years, colleges have become more expensive and more blatant in what they do,” he said.
Luddy is part of a select group of business leaders, researchers, and educators across the United States who are trying to fix higher education by building new colleges as examples of what higher education should be. .
He established Thales College to “provide an affordable, high-quality undergraduate option for students”. Tuition is $4,000 per term. Students can complete in three years and will take courses while working in apprenticeship programs.
“It takes a range of skills to be successful,” Luddy said. He wants to offer students an education “that leads somewhere”.
Luddy and other founders of new schools point out that they can build new truth-seeking institutions without destroying existing schools.
“We can’t abandon the overwhelming majority of colleges and universities,” Michael Poliakoff, president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), a group that studies higher education, said in an interview. “There are too many lives at stake.”
Poliakoff, too, believes in reconstruction. He is on the board of visitors at Ralston College in Savannah, Georgia — another new school for those hoping for reform, as current trends leave reformers in what he calls “a boat upstream.”
Poliakoff added: “We need places that have really thought about ‘what makes an educated person? “”
C. Bradley Thompson, executive director of Clemson University’s Institute for the Study of Capitalism, also serves on Ralston’s board. “The traditional understanding of a university has been entirely lost in today’s world,” Thompson said in an interview. “There is a market, a huge demand, from young people and their parents for a better education.”
He explained that Ralston wanted to restore the ideal of 19th century education, which he said is “the relentless pursuit of truth, wisdom and knowledge passed down from generation to generation for nearly 2,000 years in Western Civilization”. Renowned author and free speech advocate Jordan Peterson is the school’s chancellor.
Cultivate diversity of thought
These reconstruction ideas and this entrepreneurial spirit are spreading. Other free speech advocates and cultural commentators such as former Wall Street Journal and New York Times writer Bari Weiss and Brown University professor Glenn Loury helped launch the University of Austin in Texas last year. Times columnist Ross Douthat called the school an important experiment and an “effort to push back [the] decadence” of higher education.
Philanthropist and investor Stacy Hock serves on the University of Austin Advisory Board. She explained in an interview that “every dynamic industry benefits from new market entries”.
“The idea of creating a new institution that can live up to the [established institutions] is intimidating,” Hock said. Still, she added, “it’s desperately needed.” When U. Austin launched last year, Hock said thousands of students and tenured faculty expressed interest in the new school.
“Students felt self-censored on campus,” Hock continued. “There was this real desire to engage with intellectuals around ideas in a fairly uncensored but also rigorous way.” The school launched a seminar program for undergraduates this summer, and school leaders plan to offer master’s and bachelor’s degree programs in coming years.
Silicon Valley-based investors launched Minerva University a decade ago, offering virtual classes and providing students with opportunities in cities such as Seoul, Berlin and Taipei for different career training experiences. The school is very selective and only admits 1% of applying students.
The traditional four-year college experience is not the right choice for all students after high school. But those who want a degree should be able to choose between schools based on academic quality and affordability. They should be able to choose between schools that protect the diversity of ideas. Extensive research reveals that a strong majority of professors support centre-left policymakers and causes. Students at this level must wrestle with ideas, and this process requires teaching from different perspectives.
“American universities are anathema to what universities should be,” noted Clemson’s Thompson. “Soon we’re going to see colleges that don’t have DEI offices,” he said, adding, “going forward, those are very exciting times.”
Higher education needs to be rebuilt, not just reformed. For those attending schools created to rebuild higher education, it is already an exciting time to return to campus.