Bold and Bad

At its meeting yesterday, the U.S. secretary of education’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education, which is tasked with creating a renovation strategy for the nation’s ivory tower, illustrated well why government rarely produces rational policies.

Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings kicked off yesterday’s confab by urging the commission to make its final report, which is due in September, “as bold and as concrete” as possible. Setting aside that “bold” almost certainly translates into more big government—the last thing needed by American higher education, which is bloated with taxpayer dollars—it was immediately clear that the commission won’t be able to settle on any meaningful policy proposals, bold or otherwise. Indeed, the commission members couldn’t even agree on the definition of “unaffordable” or proper use of terms like “higher education” and “college.” If they can’t nail those things down, how the heck are they going to agree on any truly “bold and concrete” reforms?

In the end, the only things the commission’s final report will probably “boldly” declare are that (1) there’s a “crisis” in higher education, and (2) government must fix it. The report’s remedies, in contrast, will likely be restricted to nebulous proposals like “improving access” to higher education and imposing greater “accountability” on schools—the kind of lowest-common-denominator stuff that is the best one can hope for from a group that can’t even agree on a definition of “unaffordable.”

Of course, that’s probably what most policymakers want. It will give them a perfect excuse to waste even more money on student and institutional aid, pile new rules and regulations on colleges, and congratulate themselves for attacking the higher education “crisis” head-on.