Barone wonders whether public subsidies will cause the higher education bubble to burst

Michael Barone‘s latest column for the Washington Examiner explores the impact of government subsidies on higher education.

For years government has assumed it’s a good thing to go to college. College graduates tend to earn more money than non-college graduates.

Politicians of both parties have called for giving everybody a chance to go to college, just as they called for giving everybody a chance to buy a home.

So government has been subsidizing higher education with low-interest college loans, Pell Grants and cheap tuitions at state colleges and universities.

The predictable result is that higher-education costs have risen much faster than inflation, much faster than personal incomes, much faster than the economy over the past 40 years.

Moreover, you can’t get out of paying off those college loans, even by going through bankruptcy. At least with a home mortgage you can walk away and let the bank foreclose and not owe any more money.

Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal, is adept at spotting bubbles. He cashed out for $500 million in March 2000, at the peak of the tech bubble, when his partners wanted to hold out for more. He refused to buy a house until the housing bubble burst.

“A true bubble is when something is overvalued and intensely believed,” he has said. “Education may still be the only thing people still believe in in the United States.”

But the combination of rising costs and dubious quality may be undermining that belief.

For what have institutions of higher learning accomplished with their vast increases in revenues? The answer in all too many cases is administrative bloat.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...

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