June 1, 2011 1:53PM

Harkin to Continue Ignoring that He’s the Problem

What an enigma American higher education is! It produces simultaneously far too many graduates and far too few. It gets hundreds‐​of‐​billions in taxpayer subsidies — subsidies that have almost constantly risen — and yet its main problem is said to be too little public support.

What interesting questions these problems raise!

Don’t, though, ask Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) about any of them. Even though he chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee, which has jurisdiction over such huge laws as the Higher Education Act, all he cares about is one thing: slaying for‐​profit schools. Which is why he has scheduled yet another hearing — the fifth in a seemingless endless series — that will focus solely on for‐​profit institutions, and will almost certainly feature more lopsided testimony, self‐​serving speechifying, and, if we’re really lucky, more apparently dirty dealing masquerading as selfless public service. 

Why is Harkin seemingly obsessed with for‐​profit schools while ignoring the really interesting — and urgent — questions about the entire Ivory Tower? Sadly, that is not a great riddle. It is because what ails higher education is Senator Harkin himself, and all the politicians who, for decades, have bought votes with massive aid to schools and students while taking no responsibility for the outrageous price inflation and waste that has fueled. In other words, Sen. Harkin is ignoring the problem because, to deal with it, he’d be the one who’d have to answer the tough questions.