Higher Education — Not on an Elevated Moral Plane After All


To hear most of our higher-education leaders talk, you’d gather that their sole concerns are helping students and improving society. But in their recent book Cracks in the Ivory Tower, two scholars (Jason Brennan and Phil Magness) do a public choice analysis of our higher-ed system and show that it’s full of self-interested actions that waste resources and often interfere with optimal education.

In today’s Martin Center article, I review the book.

Brennan and Magness set the tone right off the bat:

From a business ethics standpoint, the average university makes Enron look pretty good. Universities’ problems are deep and fundamental: Most academic marketing is semi-fraudulent, grading is largely nonsense, students don’t study or learn much, students cheat frequently, liberal arts education fails because it presumes a false theory of learning, professors and administrators waste students’ money and time in order to line their own pockets, everyone engages in self-righteous moral grandstanding to disguise their selfish cronyism, and so on.

The authors have no tolerance for BS and repeatedly blow away rhetorical smokescreens to show that professors and administrators are usually looking out for themselves when they decide to do (or not  to do) things.

This is a contrarian book that we’ve needed for years. If enough Americans read it, we might have a chance at ending one of the country’s most disastrous public policy blunders, namely federal subsidies for college.

George Leef is the director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

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