RON HART: Higher cred: Degrees cost more but are worth less

Ron Hart, The Hart Beat

It seems to be an American article of faith that one must get as many degrees as possible. Yet few consider that education, due to a lack of competition, cost controls and innovation, no longer represents the value proposition it once did.

Getting a degree is embedded in our national mindset. A 106 year-old Ohio woman just got her high school diploma. Time being of the essence, I really hope her guidance counselor suggested only a two-year college for her.

Having served on the Tennessee State Board of Regents and currently on two college boards, I suggest some simple changes that will help our archaic education system:

Accountability:Since colleges require that students take the SAT or ACT when they apply for admission, they should have to take it when they graduate. Schools go into a tenured tizzy when it is suggested that metrics be applied to the four-plus years they have our kids. Studies have shown students often don’t improve in college. An exit exam also gives us employers a data point against which we can determine what type of kid we are hiring. This would also reveal which colleges (some of them perhaps small and lesser known) are adding the best value to their end product — the student.

Teach or Perish:Stop paying professors to play the “publish or perish” game. Six-figure salaried professors spend inordinate amounts of time writing inane papers on subjects no one cares about that are read only by other professors. This is wasteful folly, elevated in importance each year, with no one examining why.  Just read someone’s dissertation or paper submitted to an academic group ("academic" is the right word since it does not matter). 

Set aside the circular wastefulness of someone submitting for peer review a paper comparing, yet again, the prose of Chaucer to William Faulkner.  Even in supposedly real scientific subjects, the endeavor has become a joke, so much so that the "Bogdanoff Affair" highlighted it with the fake paper “Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity.

It was a complete hoax, but the paper was submitted, accepted and lauded. They are so divorced from reality that these peer-review eggheads couldn’t tell the difference between a joke and a real paper.

If a professor has a real idea, have him submit it to Silicon Valley, Wall Street or corporate America's R&D departments.  See if they will buy the idea and pay the professor and the college for their work. Otherwise, this is an odd and wasteful subculture in academia that does no one any good. End it.

There was actually a study by the University of Maryland, funded by our tax dollars, that said a chemical element had been discovered that made females talk twice as much as males. I could have told them that element is Pinot Grigio.

Control Costs:Education is fraught with waste. In most cases, colleges are government-controlled oligopolies. Student loan debt just surpassed credit card debt at over $1trillion. More than half of recent college grads are un- or under-employed. Like the housing crisis, when government funds something it creates a bubble. Such is the case with student loans, signed for by vulnerable 18 year-old kids at an age when they would finance a tattoo if you front the money.

Apply basic tenets of economics so children aren't tenants in their parents' basements.

When I got out of grad school in 1983, college cost $10,000. It has increased more than twice the rate of inflation (6.9 percent versus 2.9 percent for CPI) over the ensuing years and now costs on average about $60,000. It would be only $22,000 had colleges kept their costs in line with inflation.

For the last 10 years, hospital service costs are up 68 percent and college tuition and fees 73.2 percent. Obviously, where government sticks its nose, it costs us more. By comparison, free-market items like TVs are down 74 percent in cost; toys are down 37 percent for the same period. If colleges and teachers really “cared about the students and education,” they would keep their costs reasonable and better prepare their graduates.

There remains an odd affection for one’s college. Consider a recent "Onion" headline: “Man Has Alarming Level Of Pride In Institution That Left Him $50,000 In Debt, Inadequately Prepared For Job Market.” In humor there is truth.

Ron Hart is a syndicated op-ed humorist,award-winning author and TV/radio commentator. Email or visit