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Higher education in America is in crisis. Costs are too high, learning is too little, and the payoff to students and society is increasingly problematic. In Restoring the Promise, Richard Vedder shows how the precarious position of colleges and universities results from a mostly unsuccessful expansion of governmental involvement in the academy, especially at the federal level.
The book examines todays most serious issues in higher education, including free speech and academic freedom; tuition and other costs; culture and curricula; governance; gender, race and diversity; due process; admissions; student loans; and much more. It diagnoses problems and identifies solutions.
For example, the total cost of college per student in the United States is now higher than in any other country. When combining the monetary costs of college with the opportunity costs of losing years of labor to the economy, the true cost of higher education to American society well exceeds one trillion dollars annually. Yet, despite American higher educations immense price tag, students are learning less than ever before and continue to be underemployed.
The book discusses the three Is of university reform: information, incentives, and innovation. Without information, it is impossible for taxpayers and governing authorities to ensure that public education spending truly furthers the broader interests of society rather than the narrow interests of faculty and administrators.
Shaping incentives for management would help to reduce costs and improve quality. Business practices such as Responsibility Centered Management (RCM), for example, allow profit to motivate efficiency and encourage learning outcomes.
And expanding the use of innovation in technology and open online courses, along with relinquishing old rules such as tenure and three-month summer vacations, offer new hope for institutions of higher education.
The book discusses such additional reforms as the following:
- Ending or revising the federal student financial aid program
- Giving departments or even professors a share of overall revenue based on student enrollments in their classes. Departments or professors would then be required to pay their share of travel, building rental, maintenance, utilities, and other such costs from the revenues they receive
- Providing earnings data on former students by college five, ten or fifteen years after matriculation. Prospective students (and parents) as well as lawmakers and oversight officials would be assisted regarding school successes and failures
- Increasing faculty teaching loads
- Instituting three-year degrees and year-round instruction
- Ending discrimination against for-profit schools
- Ending grade inflation
- Ending speech codes and other barriers to academic freedom
- Ending affirmative action and related diversity programs
- And more...
Part One: Higher Educations Triple Crisis
1: Why Go to College Anyway?
2: College Is Too Costly
3: Students Arent Learning Critical Knowledge and Employable Skills
4: College Graduates Are Underemployed
Part Two: How Did We Get Here?
5: Nearly Four Centuries of Higher Learning
6: Why Fees and Costs Are Rising So Fast
7: Why Endowments Dont Lower the Cost of Tuition
8: The Federal Student Financial Assistance Debt Crisis
Part Three: Where Does All the Money Go?
9: Universities Spending Perversities
10: Nonacademic Activities and Rip-Offs
11: The Edifice Complex
12: The Costly Enterprise of Intercollegiate Athletics
Part Four: Is Educating Students a Top Priority?
13: The Conundrum of Research
14: The Academic Cartel of Accreditation
15: The Scandal of Diversity
16: The Weaknesses of Current University Governance
Part Five: Where Do We Go from Here?
17: The Three Is of University Reform
18: The Failure of Government Higher Education Policy
19: Reforming Higher Education
About the Author
- Americas colleges and universities are increasingly expensivefar more costly than 25 or 50 years agocausing graduates to defer buying a home, starting a family, saving for retirement, and pursuing the American Dream. While growing incomes and wealth have made almost everything else more affordable, it now takes a larger portion of income for most Americans to pay for college compared to one or two generations ago. The increased cost reflects many factorssome tied to the labor-intensive nature of teachingbut the main fault lies with misguided government policies, especially federal student financial assistance programs that artificially boost demand and enable schools to exploit students through price discrimination. Data from the New York Federal Reserve Bank and the National Bureau of Economic Research suggest that every dollar per student in federal financial aid leads to about a 60 cent increase in tuition fees.
- The saddest truth about higher education is that most college students learn relatively little while in school. Although colleges are supposed to be in the information and knowledge business, they know shockingly little about the educational value added they impart to students during their collegiate years. The evidence of Richard Arum and Josipa Roska, after surveying more than 2,300 students on diverse campuses, suggests that students gain little important knowledge, with some exceptions in technical areas such as engineering, nursing, architecture, or accounting, where colleges teach vocationally useful material. Low levels of learning are not surprising, because students spend little time in classrooms or studyingon average less than 30 hours weekly for about 32 weeks a year.
- Higher education often confers surprisingly little advantage in the job market, making college a risky investment for many. An October 2018 report by Federal Reserve Bank of New York finds that around 40 percent of recent college graduates are underemployed, filling jobs traditionally filled by high school graduatesUber drivers, baristas, big box store cashiers, and other jobs not requiring a degree. Some 40 percent or more of students fail to graduate from college in even six years. To be sure, for many Americans, going to college is worthwhile financially, but there are significant risks involved.
- Colleges are notoriously inefficient, with few incentives to lower costs or improve quality. Often the incentives they face create perverse outcomes, such as a growing ratio of employees to students over the past half century. Colleges are swarming with administratorsmore than faculty. Buildings lie empty much of the year. Professors at even teaching-oriented schools rarely teach even 400 hours a year, down at least one-third over the past half century.
- Making matters worse, academic debate on campus has increasingly yielded to intellectual conformity. Despite exceptions, many prominent campuses have become bastions of a progressive leftish monoculture: the faculty espouse overwhelmingly similar views on political and cultural issues, tolerance of alternative viewpoints is stifled, and original research demonstrates that outside speakers also tend to have a strong leftish orientation. Reasoned debate among alternative viewpoints is too often limited.
American universities are facing unprecedented challenges: falling enrollments and declining public support are causing more schools to close their doors. In a half of a century, they have gone from a Golden Age of expansion and affluence to a drearier era of decline. Whats troubling academiaand what can be done to spark renewal?
The answers are complex. But at the heart of the problem, according to economist Richard K. Vedder, is that higher education lacks incentives to change, to innovate, to operate efficiently. It often even lacks vital information measuring the problems it faces. Much of the difficulty arises because third parties, especially government, help finance the enterprise, so the discipline that markets impose on businesses does not exert its salutatory effects in the academy.
In Restoring the Promise: Higher Education in America, Vedder offers a probing analysis of serious problems facing higher education, particularly its excessive costs, inadequate student academic achievement, and its failure to prepare graduates for life beyond the academy. More than a diagnosis of what ails American academia and why, Restoring the Promise offers powerful prescriptions to cure the underlying problems and foster a renaissance in higher education.
Higher Educations Triple Crisis
Many Americanssome polls say a majoritycomplain that colleges are too costly. College prices have risen roughly three percent more annually than the overall inflation rate in the past 40 years, although that increase is now slowing.
Rising costs might be warranted if this were accompanied by qualitative improvements in educational services. But are students actually learning more? The evidence suggests otherwise. The most comprehensive study, by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, shows little improvement in critical thinking or writing abilities during college. In addition, professors are teaching much less than their counterparts of the 1960s, while the students are studying a lot lessbut getting much higher grades. Students are doing less for more.
Rising costs might also make sense if they conferred growing advantages in the job market, but this appears not to be the case. While college graduates earn more than high school diploma holders, that differential is not growing, and there are far more college graduate workers than jobs requiring a bachelors degree. Moreover, at some non-elite schools, starting pay on average is low, and many fail to graduate.
High costs, mediocre academic outcomes, and inadequate payoffs to students and society constitute higher educations triple crisis.
How Did We Get Here?
For much of U.S. history, higher education has been a growth industry. At the time of the American Revolution, there were 774 students at nine American colleges. The numbers grew rapidly and fairly consistently until recent years, when enrollments actually started declining. Today the proportion of adult Americans with college degrees now exceeds 30 percent.
Rising incomes, population, and job-skill requirements contributed to rising demand for a college education, as did a greater collegehigh school earnings differential. Another factor is particularly important: the surge in federal student loan and grant programs after 1965. Some blame the labor-intensity of teaching for rising costs; others blame declining state support. Of major importance, however, is the Bennett Hypothesis: greater federal student loan availability largely explains higher tuition fees. The huge rise in federal student debt created a myriad of unintended problems, including reduced fertility and homeownership for debt-laden young adults.
Misplaced priorities only compound the problem. Although some schools depend heavily on endowments, the evidence shows that little endowment money is spent to make college more affordable to students. Instead, the staff benefit from higher compensation, lower teaching loads, and other perks. Indeed, despite rising federal financial assistance and growing endowments, the proportion of recent college graduates from the bottom quintile of the income distribution has actually declined since 1970.
Where Does All the Money Go?
At most modern universities, somewhere between 25 and 40 percent of spending goes towards things not directly related to the academic mission; it is spent on things like food services, medical clinics, or intercollegiate athletics.
But even within spending on core activities, less than half goes directly for instruction. Spending for research, academic support, student services and institutional support each consume typically over 10 percent of university budgets. Instructional and research spending as a share of budgets has fallen over time. Administrative staffs have soared in size and importance, while the faculty has lost some clout (although they have been bribed, figuratively speaking, with lower teaching loads). In the 1970s, schools typically had more than two faculty members per bureaucrat; now there is less than one.
The rise in tuition fees is accompanied by soaring prices of university-provided food and housing, which have risen faster than in the non-university private economy. University costs have increased also because of an edifice complex, huge outlays for elaborate buildings and sports facilities with climbing walls, atriums, and lazy rivers. At the same time, maintenance spending is woefully inadequate on most campuses.
The biggest collegiate scandal of all, some believe, is intercollegiate athletics. It is increasingly highly costly, with good athletic performance lining the pockets of plutocratic coaches at the expense of athletes who are underpaid but often scarred with debilitating long-term health issues. Scandals abound.
Is Educating Students a Top Priority?
As universities deemphasize teaching, they have put much emphasis on research. At many schools, research dollars are a big source of revenue. Yet much non-STEM research is not even read much or cited by other scholars. Federal policies on overhead costs for research make little sense and mainly benefit university bureaucracies. Non-university research organizations, especially think tanks, provide some needed competition.
Academic accreditation is highly ineffectivecomplex, costly, secretive, provides little consumer information, emphasizes inputs rather than outcomes, stands as a barrier to entry and innovation, and promotes excessive federal control. It also is riddled with conflicts of interests.
Another challenge to traditional aims of higher education can be heard in the top buzzword on todays campuses: diversity. By most measures, universities are far more demographically diverse than ever. Yet despite growing enrollment of racial minorities, their academic performance is often disappointing, in part because of mismatchingpushing minorities to attend schools for which they are academically unprepared.
Another sort of diversity, however, has declined: diversity of the mind. Campuses are increasingly dominated by left-oriented faculty, sometimes to the exclusion of many alternative perspectives. More fundamental is the problem of governance: who runsor even ownsthe universities? Governing boards are often rubber stamps for administrations, often ignorant of key facts needed to make objective decisions.
Where Do We Go from Here?
To spark a renaissance in higher education, three I words are critical: information, incentives, and innovation. We need better information about how much students learn; we need for schools to have a greater stake in boosting academic achievement; and we need smarter ways to improve educational services.
In a major way, higher education is a poster child for government failure. Governmentat both the state and federal levelhas contributed importantly to the huge increase in the costs of attending universities, providing instead economic rents (unnecessary income/compensation payments) to faculty and staff. The U.S. Department of Education has not helped.
What to do? The most fundamental reforms involve ending university monopolies on certifying educational and vocational competence. One alternative is to develop competitive institutions of quality control. For example, non-college organizations could package academic courses and award degrees whose quality is verified by external examination.
Another key reform is to eliminate, or at least radically reform, traditional federal student financial aid programs. One alternative is to promote new private ways of funding, such as Income Share Agreements. Another measure sure to ameliorate the problem is to insist that colleges share in covering loan defaults (i.e., have skin in the game). Many smaller reforms would also be useful, such as downsizing university bureaucracies, offering three-year bachelors degrees, ending grade inflation, and prohibiting race-centered admissions.
If changes are not made either from within or from outside pressure, markets will force some much needed Schumpeterian creative destruction upon American higher education. The sooner we address the problems head onby focusing on obtaining actionable information, properly aligning the institutional incentives, and fostering educational innovationthe sooner we will enjoy the fruits of an educational renaissance.
In his book Restoring the Promise, Richard Vedder continues in his role as the conscience of modern higher education. Readers will have to determine their own answers, but Dr. Vedder is asking all the right questions.
Mitchell E. Daniels, Jr., President, Purdue University; former Governor, State of Indiana
Richard Vedder is a major national resource on higher education. No one knows it betterespecially what is wrong with it, why and how it got to be wrong, and how and where we might make it right, or at least better. In Restoring the Promise, Vedder chronicles higher educations waste, duplication, overpricing, and broken promises. So much wrong and so many misrepresentations for so much money!! If we want to fix it, his chronicle is a good place to start. Thorough, scholarly, probative and revealing.
William J. Bennett, former Secretary, U.S. Department of Education; former Chairman, National Endowment for the Humanities; author (with David Wilezol), Is College Worth It? A Former United States Secretary of Education and a Liberal Arts Graduate Expose the Broken Promise of Higher Education; editor, The Book of Virtues: A Treasury of Great Moral Stories
"We are at the end of an era in American higher education. . . . It reached full bloom after World War II, when the spigots of public funding were opened in full, and eventually became an overpriced caricature of itself, bloated by a mix of irrelevance and complacency and facing declining enrollments and a contracting market. No one has better explained the economics of this declineand its broad cultural effectsthan Richard Vedder. . . . Restoring the Promise: Higher Education in America is a summary of the arguments he has been making . . . as the Cassandra of American colleges and universities. Despite the optimistic tilt of the books title, Mr. Vedder has little to offer in the way of comfort. . . . A demographic shift might pave the way for some of the reforms Mr. Vedder puts forwardconverting federal loan programs to vouchers and allowing students to assemble self-tailored programs across a variety of institutions; making a national Collegiate Learning Assessment the real credential for a degree rather than the mix of vacuous classes and inflated grading that now suffices; upping campus facility use to year-round schedules that will permit the completion of a degree program in three years rather than four. A more probable outcome will see the Ivies and elite liberal-arts colleges survive relatively unscathed but regional and mid-range private colleges merge or closelike Newbury College in Massachusetts, which shut down last monthwith public systems absorbing the rest. It wont be the future Mr. Vedder hopes for, but it will help bring to a close an era that he has, rightly, come to deplore."
The Wall Street Journal
In Restoring the Promise, Richard Vedder brings experience from a venerable career as economist and historian to an analysis of the troubled state of higher education. His research is data driven, his writing is uncomplicated, and his arguments are persuasive enough to worry standard-issue academic administrators. Hurrah!
John W. Sommer, Knight Distinguished Professor Emeritus, University of North Carolina; former Dean, School of Social Science, University of Texas at Dallas; editor, The Academy in Crisis: The Political Economy of Higher Education
Building on a lifetime of scholarship and experience in his book Restoring the Promise, Richard Vedder provides a backstage tour of the multitudinous dysfunctions of American higher education. You may not like what he shows you, but youll savor the tour.
Bryan D. Caplan, Professor of Economics, George Mason University; author, The Case Against Education: Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money
Richard Vedder has seen our higher education problems coming miles away. From skyrocketing tuition and crushing student debt to the diminishing utility of a college education and the underemployment of graduates, Vedder has spent decades looking at the data and warning that this will not end well. If you want to understand how higher education came to this crisis and how it can be fixed, start with his book, Restoring the Promise.
Jason L. Riley, Member of the Wall Street Journal Editorial Board and Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, and Naomi Schaefer Riley, Resident Fellow, American Enterprise Institute
American higher education promises so muchexcellence, access, diversity, world-class researchand yet it delivers far too little for so many students. The problems are manyhigh cost, micromanaging from the federal government, diversity programs that do more harm than goodthe list goes on. The book, Restoring the Promise by Richard Vedder, Americas premier expert on higher education, offers a comprehensive and sobering look at how we got here and where we might head in pursuit of better higher education. Forget the bromides of politicians, this book is a clear-eyed starting point for higher education policy. If I could put one book in the hands of university boards (and their presidents), it would be this one.
Jonathan J. Bean, Professor of History, Southern Illinois University
Richard Vedder keeps a Post-it Note in his office: Never have so many spent so much for so long learning so little. When Winston Churchill spoke the words on which Vedders witticism is based, only 5% of Americans had a college degree, and colleges inculcated a spirit of civic pride and noblesse oblige. Today, more than 50% of Americans have attended some college, and these institutions have become a breeding ground of entitlement and resentment. In Restoring the Promise: Higher Education in America, Vedder, a distinguished emeritus professor of economics at Ohio University, does not provide a roadmap to restoration so much as a catalogue of the ways in which higher education has become a bad bargain. . . . Time and again, Vedder declares that his preferred solution would be to eliminate federal financial aid and dramatically curtail state government involvement, only to acknowledge that its politically unfeasible and to suggest more modest reforms. . . . Higher education is perhaps the most regressive government redistribution, providing a benefit primarily to those with the strongest economic prospects. . . . Our current system exacerbates the cultural divide: not only do the highly educated increasingly mix only with themselves, but all the while they insist that a bachelors degree is a prerequisite for first-class citizenship, reinforcing their privilege even as they bemoan all forms of oppression. . . . But in a time of increasing public dissatisfaction with Americas colleges and universities, Richard Vedders Restoring the Promise may yet show future statesmen how best to restore these institutions to their proper place.
Claremont Review of Books
Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Economics at Ohio University Richard Vedders new book, Restoring the Promise, published by the Independent Institute based in Oakland, California, is about the crisis in higher education. He summarizes the three major problems faced by Americas colleges and universities. First, our universities are vastly too expensive, often costing twice as much per student compared with institutions in other industrialized democracies. Second, though there are some important exceptions, students on average are learning relatively little, spend little time in academic preparation and in some disciplines are indoctrinated by highly subjective ideology. Third, there is a mismatch between student occupational expectations after graduation and labor market realities. College graduates often find themselves employed as baristas, retail clerks and taxi drivers. . . . Vedder has several important ideas for higher education reform. First, we should put an end to the university monopoly on certifying educational and vocational competency. Non-college organizations could package academic courses and award degrees based upon external examinations. Regarding financial aid, colleges should be forced to share in covering loan defaults, namely they need to have some skin in the game. More importantly, Vedder says that we should end or revise the federal student aid program. Vedder ends Restoring the Promise with a number of proposals with which I agree:
- College administrative staff often exceeds the teaching staff. Vedder says, I doubt there is a major campus in America where you couldn't eliminate very conservatively 10 percent of the administrative payroll (in dollar terms) without materially impacting academic performance.
- Reevaluate academic tenure. Tenure is an employment benefit that has costs, and faculty members should be forced to make tradeoffs between it and other forms of university compensation.
- Colleges of education, with their overall poor academic quality, are an embarrassment on most campuses and should be eliminated.
- End speech codes on college campuses by using the University of Chicago Principles on free speech.
- Require a core curriculum that incorporates civic and cultural literacy.
- The most important measure of academic reforms is to make university governing boards independent and meaningful. In my opinion, most academic governing boards are little more than yes men for the president and provost.
Richard Vedder is the leading economist of higher education in America. Higher education today is too expensive, too irrelevant, and too plagued by political correctness to deliver promised value to its students or the country at large. And not only do those problems persist, they are getting increasingly worse. Why is the system so resistant to change? Vedder provides the time-honored lesson'Follow the money. Reform of higher education means changing incentives, and changing incentives means reviewing the thicket of regulations and subsidies that distort the industry. Restoring the Promise is Vedders magnum opus and an important read for anyone concerned about students, parents, and taxpayers are getting their money's worth.
Todd J. Zywicki, University Foundation Professor of Law, Antonin Scalia Law School, George Mason University; Co-Editor, Supreme Court Economic Review
With Restoring the Promise, Richard Vedder has written a thorough and thoughtful book on higher education in nearly all of its aspects. It is a marvelous endeavor and a rich resource for wonks as well as bystanders. One is not obliged to agree on philosophy or politics to appreciate this important contribution.
A. Lee Fritschler, former Vice President and Director, Center for Public Policy Education, Brookings Institution; former Assistant Secretary for Post-Secondary Education, U.S. Department of Education; former President, Dickinson College; Professor Emeritus, Schar School of Policy and Government, George Mason University; former Chairman, U.S. Postal Regulatory Commission
Restoring the Promise is destined to become the must-read resource for anyone hoping to understand why college tuition is so obscenely expensive and why students emerge from college, if they graduate at all, with an almost unblemished ignorance about history and the achievements of the West. Richard Vedders calculations of college endowments per studentnearly $3 million at Princeton University, for exampleare alone worth the price of admission. University administrators will hate Restoring the Promise, since it demolishes the arguments that more federal student aid is the solution to ballooning tuition costs and that not enough teenagers are attending college. Everyone else should welcome it.
Heather L. Mac Donald, Thomas W. Smith Fellow, Manhattan Institute for Policy Research; author, The Diversity Delusion: How Race and Gender Pandering Corrupt the University and Undermine Our Culture
Over the last 20 years, no economist has spent more time in productive thinking about American higher education than Richard Vedder. In his book, Vedder refutes many of the mistaken beliefs about college, probes the reasons for its woeful inefficiency, and shows how we can rescue higher education from the interest groups that now control it. If you are concerned about higher education, put Restoring the Promise on the top of your reading list.
George C. Leef, Director of Research, James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal
If you truly want to understand the current crises in American higher education, start with Restoring the Promise, a masterful and eye-opening work of analysis and diagnosis.
Alan Charles Kors, Henry Charles Lea Professor Emeritus of History, University of Pennsylvania; Co-Founder and former Chairman, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education; and co-author (with Harvey A. Silvergate), The Shadow University: The Betrayal of Liberty on America's Campuses
American higher education appears to have lost its way. A short list of problems includes: escalating and unaccountable costs; documented decline of the quality and extent of learning; growing misfit between the educational experience and life prospects; obsession with administrative and political agendas that far too often compromise the pursuit of truth and intellectual freedom that are higher educations raison detre. As a critical friend of higher education, Richard Vedder deploys in his superb book Restoring the Promise the considerable analytical skills that have made him one of Americas leading scholars of higher education to not only illuminate the origins and nature of the problems that beset us, but to also provide us with highly informed and instructive remedies to right the ship.
Donald A. Downs, Alexander Meiklejohn Emeritus Professor of Political Science, Law and Journalism; the Glenn B. and Cleone Orr Hawkins Emeritus Professor of Political Science; and Co-Founder of the Center for the Study of Liberal Democracy; University of Wisconsin, Madison; author, Restoring Free Speech and Liberty on Campus
Richard Vedder is among Americas foremost students of higher education. His indictment of Americas colleges in his book Restoring the Promise is on the mark and his recommendations thought provoking. Everyone interested in higher education should read and ponder this book.
Benjamin Ginsberg, David Bernstein Professor of Political Science and Chair, Center for Advanced Governmental Studies, Johns Hopkins University; author, The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why it Matters
Richard Vedders Restoring the Promise: Higher Education in America outlines the labyrinth of interconnected issues that require our collective attention. As noted by Vedder, there are a variety of stakeholder groups with broad, and often competing, interests; nevertheless, cooperation and collaboration are required to sustain these pillar institutions that were established to support the common good. This volume situates the current issues in higher education within their historical context, providing explanation and insight for how institutions, university systems, and the higher education industry writ large might strategically and realistically pave a shared path forward. With 19 chapters organized into five parts, the text serves as a primer for critical yet justified positions on higher education in the United States. . . . Vedder likens the reform process to that of disease diagnosis and treatment. He fairly recognizes the broader, systemic changes required as well as institutional level reform. Vedder suggests the current state of affairs is one of crisis that seemingly is difficult to end (p. 355) yet the possibility for abrupt change remains. . . . While Vedder argues that the reform we require will originate externally, we agree with his assertion that we have a capacity for surmounting challenges and indeed even shown a love of innovation and change (p. 356). . . . Professor Vedders expertise in economics provides an important disciplinary lens for the discussion of higher education, particularly as it informs leaders stewardship of public resources, their commitment to maintaining public trust, and the collective effort to sustain institutions contributions to the public good. Informed by research and decades of experience on campuses throughout the United States, his commentary provides timely attention toward issues that require collaboration across stakeholder groups. Restoring the Promise is recommended for anyone with an interest in or responsibility related to higher education, including university leaders, governing boards, faculty members, policy makers, and community partners. Readers are encouraged to remain discerning consumers of opinion while reviewing his recommendations, particularly in light of context, perspective, and lived experience, and to continue their exploration and research of these complex, multifaceted issues. Unpacking higher educations problems, developing solutions, implementing change, and monitoring outcomes for continuous improvement will require broad representation of stakeholder groups and varied expertise. Vedder is one of many who are grappling with the full scope of reform needed in American higher education; yet, he remains an essential voice supported by his critical candor.
Teachers College Record
At last, Restoring the Promise is a lucid 360-degree examination of the whole of American higher education, sparing no idols. Richard Vedder commands near-encyclopedic knowledge of his subject and he writes with flair. His excellent book is not another sky-is-falling pronouncement of doom on colleges and universities that have become unaffordable, unaccountable, and intellectually mediocre. Rather, he takes the failures one by one and shows how we as a nation could solve them though practical policy choices. Vedder is a distinguished economist and possesses an economists eye for the tradeoffs we inevitably make when we demand a dozen things from colleges and universities besides teaching and research. He asks tough questions, adduces pertinent data, and advances compelling answers. His tone is temperate but his conclusions will surely dismay those who are complacent about how we are preparing the next generation for leadership. This is one of the best books written about higher education in the last quarter-century. The inherited strengths of our system weighed against its flaws, temptations, and corruptions are laid forth with precision by a scholar who knows exactly whats what.
Peter W. Wood, President, National Association of Scholars; former Provost, The Kings College, New York
American higher education, for all its great achievements, suffers from serious dysfunction. In the thorough and incisive book, Restoring the Promise, Richard Vedder demonstrates that the ways universities are governed, regulated, subsidized, and funded create perverse incentives. These perverse incentives explain why universities have bloated administrative staffs, spend too much space on low value projects, why most students learn so little, and why costs are out of control. Regardless of what we what universities to docreate high-value research, educate the next generation of civic and business leaders, or help disadvantaged citizens get a step up into the middle classreform is needed. Restoring the Promise doesnt just diagnose the disease, but offers us a cure that we can reasonably hope to get.
Jason F. Brennen, Robert J. and Elizabeth Flanagan Family Professor of Strategy, Economics, Ethics, and Public Policy, McDonough School of Business, Georgetown University; co-author (with Phillip Magness), Cracks in the Ivory Tower: The Bad Business Ethics of Higher Education
Richard Vedders book, Restoring the Promise, provides a tough-minded blueprint for resolving American higher educations crisis of confidence. He skillfully draws from historical and economic analyses as the base of reason to achieve the revelation that our colleges and universities can regain their proper footing and missions. This well-written, thoroughly researched work cuts through the public relations images and ideologies that have stalled higher education of the 21st century at a time when they most need to confront a host of internal and external problems that will no longer be fixed by business as usual. Vedder combines good writing with critical thinking in dissecting the dilemmas of prices and costs along with access and affordability that have been turning the American Dream of higher education into an educational and financial nightmare. Vedders book helps leaders in American higher education turn away from complacence and indecision toward informed reflection and discussions about institutional practices and public policies in rebuilding a base that in turn will be essential to restoring the promise of going to college.
John R. Thelin, University Research Professor, History of Higher Education and Public Policy, College of Education, University of Kentucky; author, A History of American Higher Education and Going to College in the Sixties
In Restoring the Promise, Richard Vedder has used his vast experience and research to craft an exceptional critique of U.S. higher education. I daresay that nobody will agree with all of his conclusions. But I am also sure that nobody will fail to be challenged by his arguments and data. Higher education is an area where the participants regularly pat themselves on the back for what they are doing and regularly suggest that the only real problem is that there is not enough of it. Vedder offers a refreshing contrarian view.
Eric A. Hanushek, Paul and Jean Hanna Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution; former Deputy Director, Congressional Budget Office; former Member, Equity and Excellence Commission, U.S. Department of Education
In Richard Vedder, and with his book Restoring the Promise, higher education has found a determined and articulate gadfly, ready to sting it out of its dysfunction and lethargy. Not everyone will agree with all of Dr. Vedders diagnosis and remedies, but any higher education leader who ignores them imperils the future of the colleges and universities that are the engines of our progress and prosperity.
Michael B. Poliakoff, President, American Council of Trustees and Alumni; former Director, Division of Education Programs, National Endowment for the Humanities
Richard Vedder takes readers on a most sobering campus tour. Though Americas universities may be the pride of the world, Vedder marshals meticulous evidence to argue they are delivering services of declining educational quality at escalating prices. As its title suggests, Restoring the Promise offers numerous ideas for arresting these trends. Most every reader will agree with some and disagree with others, but everyone concerned with the future of higher education would benefit from bringing them into the conversation.
Jacob L. Vigdor, Daniel J. Evans Professor of Public Policy and Governance, University of Washington
Americas ivory tower is crackingall over. Richard Vedder, informed by decades of working in the tower, and years of analyzing its myriad faults, has answers. If you care at all about higher educationand youd better, because youre paying for ityou need to read the invaluable, incisive volume, Restoring the Promise.
Neal P. McCluskey, Director, Center for Educational Freedom, Cato Institute
Richard Vedder is known as a strident critic of the higher education establishment in the U.S. But, it would be wrong to think he doubts the value of education. Instead, much of his ire, and the power of his critiques, come from his intimate knowledge of the failings of the public education system. Restoring the Promise documents how college education falls short of what it should be, and our society desperately needs it to be. College is expensive, and fast becoming even more so, yet it fails either to prepare students for living in a liberal society or to provide them the tools they need for employment and personal responsibility. This book is the culmination of decades of reflection, argument, and deep examination of the problems we face. This is the right book, at the right time, while there still is time to rescue the next generation.
Michael C. Munger, Professor of Political Science, Economics and Public Policy and Director of the Philosophy, Politics, and Economics Program, Duke University
No one is better equipped to analyze the crisis of American higher education than Richard Vedder. And analyze it he does in Restoring the Promise: Higher Education in America. Tuition is exploding, campus bureaucracies are ballooning, infantilizing ideas like micro aggressions are spreading and metastasizing, and evidence that students arent learning much during their four to however many years on campus is accumulating. Vedder methodically exposes these and many other afflictions of the modern university. Anyone interested in understanding what has gone wrong in higher education and how to fix it should read this book.
Joshua Dunn, Professor of Political Science and Director, Center for the Study of Government and the Individual, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs
Richard Vedder is a provocative, iconoclastic voice when it comes to American higher education. He has long been willing to ask hard questions and speak hard truths about our nation's colleges and universities. His new volume Restoring the Promise is a welcome addition to the national conversation.
Frederick M. Hess, Resident Scholar and Director of Education Policy Studies, American Enterprise Institute
Restoring the Promise makes a compelling case about whats causing much of the dysfunction in our higher education system. Professor Vedder suggests potential fixes for these problemssome of which would be very difficult politically, but all of which are directly targeted at fixing the problems he so effectively presents. With higher education having skyrocketed in cost while often declining in quality and value, colleges and policymakers would do well to experiment with Vedders recommendations before the growing crisis of trust and confidence in academia reaches levels that are impossible to ignore.
Robert L. Shibley, Executive Director, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education; author, Twisting Title IX
Throw out your volumes from the Carnegie Commission, relegate William Bowen and Derek Bok to lower shelves. With Restoring the Promise, Richard Vedder, a true expert on the subject, has given us in one book the facts and analysis weve long needed on all matters higher educational. Is too much indoctrination by college professors going on? Is the slogan college for all encouraging student-loan delinquency? Are colleges using monopoly power to charge too much tuition? Are administrators building bureaucratic empires? Are there all too many university employees who do not contribute to student learning? The answers are in this truly excellent book.
Williamson M. Evers, Research Fellow, Hoover Institution; former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education for Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development
In his book Restoring the Promise, Richard Vedder pinpoints the issue plaguing higher education early on, identifying the precarious position of higher education as the outgrowth of governmentparticularly federalintervention in the sector. That intervention has fueled pernicious regulations and a student loan debt crisis that, cumulatively, exceeds aggregate credit card debt. Moreover, his provocative suggestion that higher education as currently structured may exacerbate income inequalities rather than reduce it will no doubt spur a critical conversation about the efficacy of the American college system moving forward. Fifty-four years of university teaching have made Dr. Vedder uniquely situated to diagnose the many problems plaguing higher education. Restoring the Promise is a must-read for anyone interested in how to address the $1.5 trillion question, improve university efficiency and effectiveness, and who generally appreciates the good-natured wit and insight of Richard Vedder.
Lindsey M. Burke, Director and Will Skillman Fellow in Education Policy; Center for Education Policy; Institute for Family, Community, and Opportunity; Heritage Foundation
Most people would agree that American higher education is an important institution in our society that faces numerous challenges that threaten its very existence. In his new and comprehensive critical study of higher education, Restoring the Promise, Richard Vedder outlines a triple crisis, high costs, little learning, and uncertain employment prospects for graduation. As the Founding Director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, Vedder has supported his analysis with numerous charts and graphs, mostly drawn from governmental studies and reports, that show the effects of out-of-control tuition rates, grade inflation, and administrators who focus on political correctness, sports and luxury residence halls more than the measurement of learning, graduation rates, and post-graduate employment. While constructively criticizing many practices within colleges and universities, Vedder notes that a large part of higher educations problems relate to the role that government plays. He concludes this comprehensive work by offering a set of broad, long-run, and radical solutions to move academe back to a consumer-funded model that would remove much of the rationale for outside oversight. Among the many recent books on higher education, Vedders is the most comprehensive, coming from a scholar with more than five decades of experience. I highly recommend it to legislators, policymakers, academics, administrators, business leaders, parents, students, and anyone else with a stake in the future of Americas higher education institutions.
C. Ronald Kimberling, former Assistant Secretary of Education for Postsecondary Education, U.S. Department of Education; former President, Argosy University, Chicago Campus; former Executive Director, Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation
Richard Vedder paints a stark picture of the modern university in his new book, Restoring the Promise: Higher Education in America. Vedder laments the rising cost of attending college, the falling standards, increased government regulation, and a de-emphasis on teaching. Vedder is an expert at diagnosing many of the problems within the research university.
Education, especially the nature and quality of today's education from kindergarten through college, will have a profound impact on this nation and its future direction, for the children of today will be our future leaders of tomorrow. . . . higher education, once the envy of the world, is now suffering a crisis of confidence and a loss of purpose. . . . reinforced and brilliantly expanded upon by Richard K. Vedder. . . . his newest book Restoring the Promise: Higher Education in America examines the nature of and solutions to such issues as tuition and other costs; public funding and governance; curricula; free speech and academic freedom; political correctness; due process; admissions; student loans; and much more. Vedders suggested reform agenda is equally comprehensive as he urges ending discrimination against for-profit schools; ending grade inflation; ending speech codes and other barriers to academic freedom; ending affirmative action and related diversity programs; ending or revising federal student financial aid; instituting three-year degrees and year-round instruction; and providing earnings data on former students for extended periods after graduation.
In Restoring the Promise: Higher Education in America Vedder notes that American higher education is increasingly in trouble. Universities are facing an uncertain and unsettling future with free speech suppression, out-of-control Federal student aid programs, soaring administrative costs, and intercollegiate athletics mired in corruption. . . . Vedder explores these issues and exposes the federal government's role in contributing to them. With up-to-date discussions of the most recent developments on university campuses, Restoring the Promise is the most comprehensive assessment of universities in recent years. As informed and informative as it is thoughtful and thought-provoking, Restoring the Promise: Higher Education in America is an extraordinary and timely contribution to our on-going national discussion about reforms so increasingly necessary to our educational systems and policies if America is to retain its competitive edge in our increasingly interconnected and competitive global economies. An exceptionally well organized and presented study, Restoring the Promise is unreservedly recommended for both community and academic library Contemporary Educational Issues collections and supplemental studies curriculum lists. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, education activists, governmental policy makers, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that Restoring the Promise is also available in a digital book format.
Midwest Book Review
Richard Vedder has just written a new book entitled Restoring the Promise: Higher Education in America that is a must-read for everyone who is interested in this important topic. In plain English (as opposed to muddy academic jargon), he explains that higher education is, for the most part, failing to live up to its promise, why that is the case, and what can be done to put things right. . . . One of the main tasks of economists is to trace the unintended consequences of laws and regulations that change the natural order of things, and Vedder proceeds to show that well-intentioned interventions, led by federal student aid, are at the root of our problems. . . . Vedder sees federal higher education subsidies as the root of our numerous maladies. . . . Vedder is optimistic that we will restore the promise of higher education. Thats because hes optimistic about the power of good, new ideas and institutions to displace old, ineffective ones. We will find better ways of teaching and certifying that students are competent, and we will adopt better models of financing postsecondary education than federal grants and loans. America is a can do nation that has repeatedly shown its capacity for surmounting challenges. We love competition and innovation. Thats what it will take to make our higher education system one that the rest of the world would really envy. There is a small mountain of books analyzing our higher education system. If thats one of your concerns, place Restoring the Promise at the peak.
George C. Leef, Director of Editorial Content, James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal
When I picked up this book by Richard Vedder, Restoring the Promise: Higher Education in America, I generally knew what to expect because I had read much of his work in op/eds and essays over the years. But upon digging into it, I was struck by its comprehensive treatment and well-researched analysis of the wide range of problems facing higher education in America and how much sense he makes about what to do about them. Here is a hint of the prime culprit from the introduction to the chapter on governance: There is a remarkable consensus among many observers of higher education that the system of governance is broken....almost every contemporary issue facing higher education is impeded and frustrated by a hundred year old system of governing practices that desperately needs modification. Truly, this is an industry in need of a considerable dose of creative destruction and, as Jason Riley wrote, Vedder has spent decades warning that this will not end well. If you want to understand how higher education came to this crisis and how it can be fixed, start with this book.
Restoring the Promise explores the maladies of contemporary higher education, focusing on the price of tuition, learning outcomes, and underemployment. Looks at the goals of a college education and sources of funding for higher education and research. Documents the rise in college cost over time. Assesses the quality of instruction at American universities. Reflects on underemployment among college graduates. Chronicles the history of higher education in the United States. Presents explanations for rising tuition fees. Investigates the use of endowments. Examines the federal student financial assistance debt crisis. Analyzes spending, the number of employees in higher education. Addresses the growth in university bureaucracies and their commercialization. Delves into universities accounting, maintenance, use of buildings, and debt. Studies the cost of intercollegiate athletics. Evaluates university research. Details insights into accreditation and systemic issues. Researches affirmative action, intellectual diversity, and free speech. Explains weaknesses in current university governance. Presents a case for the use of information, incentives, and innovation in university reform. Considers government higher education policy. Describes paths toward higher education reform.
Journal of Economic Literature
Richard Vedders Restoring the Promise, a sequel to his 2004 book Going Broke by Degree, documents the decline of American higher educationa decline that is likely to generate not only larger numbers of poorly-served students and more wasted taxpayer dollars, but the shuttering of some hallowed institutions. Drawing on a careers worth of research in this field, Vedder shows how the key problems facing higher educationincluding high cost, deteriorating learning, and mission driftare traceable to increased government intrusion into education. . . . Vedders exposure of the giant financial boondoggle that is higher education is one of the best features of Restoring the Promise. . . . Vedder wraps up Restoring the Promise with some suggestions for changes in higher education that might reduce costs while increasing effectiveness. Among these: ending or revising federal student financial aid; increasing faculty teaching loads; instituting year-round instruction, possibly coupled with internships; ending governmental discrimination against for-profit schools; reevaluating tenure; imposing maximum average GPAs for state universities; eliminating colleges of education; ending speech codes; and requiring a core curriculum that covers the basics of civics and culture. These are excellent ideas . . . . Restoring the Promise is essential reading for those trying to wrap their heads around the many serious problems in Americas ivory towers. Colleges and universities can be saved from their politicized sclerosis, and Vedders engaging and thoughtful analysis shows us how.
Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics
Richard Vedder is such a giant in education and economics . . . his new book Restoring the Promise which catalogues the failure of higher education in America. . . . In his outstanding book Restoring the Promise, he details many complex programs necessary to get us back on track. However, he also lists a number of simple and logical changes that are easily understood and accomplished. They include, reducing university bureaucracies, increasing faculty teaching loads, incentivizing better utilization of space, instituting three year degrees and year round instruction, ending discrimination against for-profit schools, reevaluating academic tenure, ending grade inflation, eliminating colleges of education, ending speech codes and other barriers to academic freedom, requiring a coherent core curriculum that incorporates civic and cultural literacy and ending affirmative actions and related diversity programs as they currently exist. It would be hard for most of us to argue against these common sense changes which would make our college systems more relevant, more productive and less expensive.
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