Critical Care: A Plan to Restore Higher Education

David Acevedo

Editor's Note: This article was originally published under the name "John David," the former pseudonym of NAS Communications & Research Associate David Acevedo. To learn more about why David no longer writes under this name, click here.

CounterCurrent: Week of 5/3

The COVID-19 pandemic has higher education in dire straits. Class instruction, enrollment, institutional revenue, and the academic job market have all suffered significant losses and will continue to do so for years to come. American colleges and universities have already received $14 billion in federal bailout funds, but this initial stimulus is not enough for most schools to recover. The National Association of Scholars estimates that up to 10% of colleges in the country may declare bankruptcy by the time this crisis has passed.

Further economic aid is necessary and appropriate—but only on the condition of much-needed reform. Why? For decades, higher education has shown little willingness to put its own house in order, all while accepting untold amounts of money from taxpayers’ pockets. This has resulted in runaway spending used to support an ever-growing and unnecessary bureaucracy, which in turn raises the cost of college and aggravates the student debt crisis. It is doubtful that higher education in its current state will survive, much less flourish, if simply given more money.

Colleges and universities need to make significant administrative cuts if they wish to receive another cent of aid. Thus far, they have refused to do so. Hiring freezes won’t be enough when bloated administrative offices—diversity & inclusion, multicultural affairs, sustainability, Title IX, etc.—continue to guzzle through students’ debt-laden and hard-earned tuition. Accountability is key, and it starts with conditions on bailout funds.

In response to the crisis, the National Association of Scholars is proud to announce the release of our new report, Critical Care. In it, we detail our policy recommendations to restore American higher education after the coronavirus shutdown. 

As a starting point, we propose that “The President and Congress should demand that higher education cut administrative overhead by 50 percent as a minimum condition for any further bailout funds.” In order to be bailed out, colleges and universities need to show that they are worth being bailed out. We also include recommendations regarding student debt, intellectual freedom, due process, intellectual diversity, and national security. 

To quote the report:

Higher education’s defects had already exasperated the public, even before the pandemic exposed our colleges and universities’ dysfunctions. Americans now see just how wasteful and exploitative much of higher education has become, and just how badly it undermines America’s national interests.

Our colleges and universities cannot be fixed by one simple reform. But we can begin to restore them, and we should begin now. NAS wants American higher education to survive, but not just to survive. We want it to flourish and to excel. Our recommendations sketch the necessary first steps.

America’s leaders have the chance to make our colleges and universities truly great—the pride of America. We urge them to seize that opportunity.

We encourage you to read Critical Care for yourself. If higher education is to survive this crisis and begin to thrive thereafter, drastic, multi-faceted reform is needed.

Additionally, please consider participating in our virtual panel discussion What’s the Future of Higher Education? this Thursday at 2pm, featuring speakers Pete Peterson, Tom Lindsay, and Phil Magness. They will discuss the changes we can expect in higher education in the coming months and years, and also field questions from viewers.

To register for the discussion and receive follow-up materials afterward, click here.

P.S.: Would you consider signing our open letter to President Trump? In it, we urge him to help rescue higher education by encouraging Congress to tie regulatory reform to any further bailout funding. Your help is crucial in getting this message to the White House loud and clear. To sign the open letter, click here.

CounterCurrent is the National Association of Scholars’  weekly newsletter, written by Communications & Research Associate David Acevedo. To subscribe, update your email preferences here.

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