One of the most important lessons anyone can learn about politics is that when government sets out to accomplish some objective, it often winds up doing the opposite. Rent control laws, for example, are supposed to help the non-wealthy who want urban housing, but the effect of rent control is to diminish both the quantity and quality of rental housing available.
With that point in mind, let’s consider federal student aid programs. Congress has established a variety of grant and loan programs (budgeted this year at some $73 billion) which were supposed to help make college more affordable to millions of non-wealthy families. As the cost of attending college has risen, politicians have increased the amount of aid available. The trouble is that by doing so, the government gives colleges an incentive to further increase tuition charges.
Just three months after his campaign to become the Vice President of the United States ended, former Senator John Edwards has been given a new job that seems designed to keep him, at least occasionally, in the public eye.
Edwards is going to become the Director of a new organization called the Center on Poverty, Work, and Opportunity (CPWO for short) that will officially be a part of the Law School at UNC-Chapel Hill. His title will be University Professor. He will give occasional guest lectures and do whatever directing the CPWO entails. For that work, he’ll be paid $40,000 annually. That’s a lot less than a senator is paid, but money is really no object for the millionaire lawyer.
Near the very end of the 2003 legislative session, the General Assembly passed a new law that gives to all graduates of the North Carolina School for Science and Mathematics (NCSSM) a tuition waiver if they enroll in any of the campuses of the UNC system. With tuition charges going as high as $4,400 (at Chapel Hill), this policy is a substantial yearly saving for those families whose children graduate from NCSSM and then choose one of the UNC campuses.
Since the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics (NCSSM) opened in 1980, the school has attracted some of the state’s top high school students to come to Durham study at the residential high school. At the school, students take college-level courses, and they have performed well on SAT tests and in national competitions and been admitted to some of the nation’s most prestigious universities. In recognition of the school’s generally high level of academic achievement, in 2003 the General Assembly instituted a policy of waiving tuition charges for NCSSM graduates who enroll in any University of North Carolina institution. That policy, however, cannot be justified by any of the arguments advanced in its favor. It produces no public benefit, costs the state money, and unfairly discriminates in favor of NCSSM graduates.
Predictable as the falling of autumn’s last leaves, December brings news that the state’s budget has a big deficit, that the UNC system claims that it needs a lot more money, and talks of tuition increases.
This talk has had a long gestation period – 24 years to be precise. In the fall of 1980, I was hired by a small, nonselective college to teach a number of courses – Business Law, Principles of Economics, and an upper-level course in Political Economy. An experience in the latter class one fall day was, as Senator Kerry would say, “seared” into my memory. I had asked the students to read a few pages from Hayek’s The Mirage of Social Justice, expecting that they would do the reading and come to class prepared for some discussion.
Sadly, I found out that the students a) had not bothered to read the assignment, or b) didn’t understand grasp anything from it and c) were not the least bit bothered by their inability to answer any of the questions I posed. After much embarrassing silence, one young fellow put up his hand, and I eagerly called on him. He said, “Couldn’t you, like, just tell us the main point?”
Seeking to expand UNC-Chapel Hill’s worldwide reputation as the leading public university in America, a group of faculty members have proposed a new minor that they say would greatly enhance cultural awareness – Yankee/ette Studies.
Last spring, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill established a new minor in “Latina/o Studies.” A recent announcement from UNC’s College of Arts and Sciences proclaims that “The establishment of the new program, beginning this semester, follows recognition of the increasing importance and influence of the rapidly growing number of people in North Carolina and the region who came – or whose ancestors came – from countries in Latin America….”
On September 29, UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor James Moeser delivered his “State of the University Address.” Throughout his speech, Chancellor Moeser talked repeatedly about the importance of the university showing leadership. Leadership would indeed be a splendid thing if it were in the areas central to the university’s educational mission.
A young man I know who attends UNC-Chapel Hill recently told me, “People would be amazed if they knew how easy it is to get a degree from Chapel Hill without really learning anything.” He’s probably right, and much of the blame for that should be placed on the erosion of the college curriculum.