Editor's Note: Back to School—But Which One?

Winter 2019 Insider

Editor's Note: Back to School—But Which One?

Dec 20, 2018 3 min read

Regular readers of The Insider will know that we aim to provide a mix of ideas and advice—arguments for conservative policies as well as practical advice on how to put those policies in place. 

Here, we’d like to call your attention to an article that falls into the how-to category. Jacqueline Pfeffer Merrill provides detailed advice for anyone thinking about donating to higher education. In so doing, she reminds us that we should live according to our values in all aspects of our lives, including our philanthropic choices in the field of higher education. 

Philanthropy has built the conservative movement—its think tanks, its activist organizations, its opinion magazines, and its candidates. It has even funded non-profits that specialize in fixing the intellectual deficits that students obtain from exposure to the Left-leaning professoriate. 

It always pays to think carefully about how and where to give before cutting a check. Yet when it comes to supporting higher education, too many conservative donors simply write a check to their alma maters every year. But will the old school use that money in ways the donors would approve? 

University of Pennsylvania professor Alan Charles Kors described the stakes well in these pages last year when he wrote: 

A “cultural” Left that loathes the American experience—the steady advance of equal justice under law in a society of individual responsibility, economic freedom, and limited government—now commands our Ed Schools, K-12 education, so-called “higher” education, and the children’s media. These closed-shop political fiefdoms deliberately are failing utterly to communicate the values of individual rights, critical mind, and actual, comparative historical understanding to the rising generation. The greatest scene of human liberation and mobility in human history is presented to its children as a caste system.

And, as both Merrill and Maria Servold note in their respective articles, too many college administrators are failing to stand up to the brown-shirt tactics of the Leftist mobs. That constitutes a failure to defend the very purpose of the university as a place where ideas are debated openly. 

There are signs that a reckoning is coming. As Richard Vedder observes (Round Up, p. 9), when most people go to college, then a college degree is no longer a useful signal for screening job applicants. Today, you need a degree from an elite university to stand out in the job market. As a result of credential inflation, enrollment at elite universities is up and enrollment at non-elite universities is down. 

But here is another problem: As Jason DeLisle and Preston Cooper point out (Round Up, p. 8), fewer middle class students are attending elite universities. Apparently, the price tag is beyond their means, and they can’t qualify for enough student aid to make it affordable. 

Employers are adjusting to these realities. Apple, Google, Hilton, IBM, and Penguin Random House are just a few of the major employers who no longer require a college degree for their top jobs. 

What all this means is that non-elite universities are more susceptible than elite universities to market pressures. They cannot rely on the reputational value of the credential they provide; instead they’ll have to teach actual skills and knowledge in order to attract students. And they need students, because most don’t have the huge endowments that would let them resist change. 

Thus, for philanthropists who want their education donations to make a difference, non-elite universities are a buyers’ market. As Merrill writes, you can take advantage of that market by considering schools other than your alma mater—especially if your alma mater no longer reflects your values.

Merrill goes on to detail a variety of steps you can take to make sure your donation to an institution of higher education will be spent as you wish. There are options for donors of all means; so now is the time to think about how your gift giving can help fix what ails our colleges and universities.

Alex Adrianson

Alex Adrianson edits The Insider.
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