Bernie vs Hillary: Higher Ed

Now let’s leave aside foreign policy and look at the differences in the candidates’ approach to a topic that is very dear to my heart: higher education.

On the issue of why tuition is going up, Sanders pointed to choices being made by colleges. “We have some colleges and universities that are spending a huge amount of money on fancy dormitories and on giant football stadiums…  And I understand in many universities a heck of a lot of vice presidents who earn a big salary.”

So Bernie is doing his favorite thing and suggesting that taking away money from a few rich individuals and spreading it around will solve the problem. In the process, he contributes to demonize colleges who, according to him, are making all those bad spending choices. What does Clinton suggest instead?

Clinton said that, by far, the top reason for rising college costs at public colleges is that “states have been dis-investing in higher education…. So states over a period of decades have put their money elsewhere; into prisons, into highways, into things other than higher education.”

Who is right? Obviously Hillary. My university right now (and that’s only just at the moment. Things will get much worse in the new fiscal year) misses $250,000,000 in state funding. Even if we fire every administrator on campus, that will not even begin addressing the problem. We are a state school, our administrators are not overpaid. And the only fancy thing we are building right now is a new science lab.

Bernie’s comments are relevant to expensive private schools. But their students don’t need help. Our students do! We had to raise tuition last year because the state of Illinois is dis-investing in higher ed. That’s the only reason for our tuition raises. But Bernie doesn’t notice our existence because that’s inconvenient and spoils his neat “the rich guy stole your pony” narrative.

Bernie’s college plan sounds cute but since Bernie doesn’t understand how things work, the plan will not address the real problems. His are simplistic, superficial suggestions that make people feel good by pointing out the enemy: rich folks, money-hungry administrators, evil hedge fund managers. There is zero difference between this approach and that of Trump. 

I hope people abandon the childish yearning for simplistic recipes and begin to understand that life is more complicated than this good guys vs bad guys fantasy.

7 thoughts on “Bernie vs Hillary: Higher Ed

  1. I agree for the most, though I graduated a few years ago from a state university, in a tea party state that has been gutting its public universities, and at the same time as class sizes and adjuncts have risen, majors and courses have been cut, journal subscriptions have been cut, etc. all in the name of “the state is cutting the budget, we have no money”, the school has also built a brand new gym, luxury apartment style dormitories, and a brand new on-campus football stadium. I wouldn’t necessarily care about these choices if I did not see the commitment to fund academics decline so dramatically from my freshman to senior year, so if budgets are being cut and academia gutted in response, it is pretty appalling to see these kinds of luxury non-academic facilities going up at the same time…

    Is it possible that in the face of state cuts, schools have been adding these luxury amenities to attract a wealthy out-of-state population that is more interested in partying than academics, thus, not qualifying for scholarships, making it so daddy pays full out-of-state tuition for their little one to have the “college experience”? This is kind of a wild guess, so I may be totally off, but I cannot help but find this linked in some way. Still, if it is linked, ultimately it is because states are dis-investing in higher ed, so I do agree that is the root of the problem and that should be emphasized before anything. I just do not find Bernie’s response outrageous given what I have seen develop at my university – and I find the commitment towards luxury non-academic facilities at the expense of academics similar to their practice of paying top dollar to a bunch of worthless administrators who also do nothing to promote scholarship (since the worthless admins also seem unaffected by budget cuts). I do not find it outrageous to criticize colleges for these choices, though yeah, it is outrageous to criticize these choices without raising the point on state dis-investment in higher ed.

    Maybe I am talking in circles, so the short point is – I do think the luxury non-academic facilities are a problem, similar to the worthless overpaid admin problem, and this needs to be discussed, though not at the expense of forgetting that the critical issue is states dis-investing in higher education. Some of the worthless admins, who are approving these choices, are coming out of the same tea party government (or they are spouses of our tea party politicians) that has been cutting the budget, whatever that is worth…


    1. I haven’t seen any of this at my university. We don’t have any wealthy students and our concerns lie on an entirely different plane.

      So obviously I prefer a candidate who speaks to the issues that affect my life.


  2. Yes. I agree that Clinton is correct in suggesting that states have been divesting in education and that is causing a huge problem. However, I don’t think Sanders is identifying a problem solely with private education.

    I unfortunately can’t link to it but the Chronicle of Higher Ed recently published the top salaries of all executives/top paid employees at nearly every institution across the US and the executive salaries–even at smaller public institutions– are astonishingly high. As a side note: if you are able to locate the table, the published salaries are sometimes deceptive and a President will claim a “low” salary (i.e. 70k or something along those lines) but if you search further, you will see that the same person is receiving additional substantial compensation under a slightly different title.

    So I guess this is a long way of saying, I agree with both Sanders and Clinton here. I don’t think these issues exist in isolation.


    1. Even if a president of a school makes let’s say a million. That’s not the kind of money that will make a serious difference to a school.


      1. I agree. I don’t care if all these administrators get fired today but that will solve no problem and serve no practical purpose. It’s the same as “taxing the hedge fund managers”. Yes, tax them, don’t tax them, deport every single one of them today – whatever. But that will not address any existing problem. It’s an empty feel-good fantasy.


        1. The discussion was on the subject of tuition going up. There are sums of an entirely different order that are being sought with that.

          And at my university nobody gets paid anything close to a million.


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