Rethinking College Education in America

In an interview last month at the Hoover Institution, the estimable Victor Davis Hanson, speaking in character, made a typically provocative comment. “For what we are paying for every provost of diversity and inclusion,” he said, “we could probably hire three professors of electrical engineering.”

That can be fact-checked. And the results are illuminating.

On the Public Records Act-enabled online database “Transparent California,” take a look at these 2018 search results for job titles that include the word  “inclusion,” or “diversity.” Note that taxpayers funded a position for Jerry Kang, UCLA’s vice chancellor for equity, diversity, and inclusion, that bestowed a total pay and benefits package worth $468,919 in 2018.

Compare that to the faculty of UCLA’s School of Engineering, where two assistant professors (Jonathan Kao and Ankur Mehta) along with an associate professor (Chi On Chui), altogether collected pay and benefits in 2018 of $564,123. That’s pretty close. At UCLA, at least, you can definitely hire two electrical engineering faculty members for the price of one diversity don, and quite nearly three.

To be fair, perhaps an apples-to-apples comparison would be to look at UCLA’s top engineering faculty member. The chairman of that department is Gregory Pottie, who made $312,027 in 2018, only two-thirds what Kang made. But Pottie is running an engineering department. That takes technical expertise and produces graduates who keep the world running. What does Kang do?

Read UCLA’s “Sample Candidate Evaluation Tool.” Or read UCLA’s “Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Statement FAQs” that presumably comes from Kang’s office. It’s toxic drivel, undermining UCLA’s ability to hire the most qualified applicants for faculty positions or admit the most qualified students.

These departments of “equity, diversity, and inclusion,” now operating in every major college and university in America, and at stupefying taxpayer expense, are indoctrinating students to equate their academic failures to systemic discrimination, a preposterous lie that only serves to weaken the character of anyone who believes it, while at the same time lining the pockets of the diversity bureaucrats who spew such filth.

Experts on this topic include not only Victor Davis Hanson but Heather Mac Donald, scholars whose impeccable research drives stakes through every seductive shibboleth ever conjured by the diversity careerists who are worse than useless; they are destroying academia. In a recent column for the Wall Street Journal titled “Would You Care if a White Man Cured COVID-19,” Mac Donald wrote:

Mandatory diversity statements are now ubiquitous in hiring for science, technology, engineering and mathematics jobs. An Alzheimer’s researcher seeking a position in a neurology lab must document his contributions to ‘diversity, equity and inclusion.’ At the University of California, Berkeley, the life sciences department rejected 76% of the applications it received last year because they lacked sufficiently effusive diversity, equity and inclusion statements. The hiring committee didn’t even look at the failed applicants’ research records.

Rethinking “Diversity,” Rethinking College Education

The COVID-19 pandemic, regardless of what you may think about its origins, its lethality, or the response, has delivered a body blow to business as usual in American higher education. The economic model that operated up until a few months ago is broken forever.

During the now fatally disrupted 2019-2020 academic year, over 20 million students were enrolled in American colleges and universities. More than 1 million of them were foreigners, and nearly 370,000 were from mainland China.

Typically attending the most prestigious schools and pouring billions in tuition into them, Chinese enrollment had already begun to decline as U.S.-China relations have deteriorated. The COVID-19 pandemic has turned that trickle into a flood. It’s probably a good idea that Americans aren’t training Chinese scientists anymore, but it’s a financial disaster for many of these posh institutions.

The irony is deep: premium tuition rates paid by Chinese students have been funding, among other things, a bloated and overpaid diversity bureaucracy that bends all of its considerable powers toward undermining everything good about higher education in America, and in doing so, dangerously weakens America’s ability to hang on to its now tenuous lead in global technological innovation.

Higher education in America is at a crossroads. Foreign enrollment, with all the premium tuition rates it guaranteed, is diminishing. Meanwhile, growing numbers of Americans are realizing not only that they are never going to be able to pay off their student loans, but that the educations they received have only qualified them for “nonessential” and low-paying employment.

And through all the years leading up to this, the diversity bureaucracy successfully agitated to admit into college members of “protected status groups” and “underrepresented minorities,” despite the fact that their SAT scores and other critical indicators of academic aptitude clearly indicated they were not sufficiently qualified. Many of those who did not drop out received watered down degrees.

Data backs up these assertions. National Center for Education statistics on college enrollment show that in 1970, 31 percent of college-age Americans attended college. By 2017 (most recent data), that had risen to 45 percent. The actual number of degrees granted in 1971 was 839,000; by 2017 there were not quite 2 million college graduates. What they studied is even more revealing.

Using data from the National Center for Education, college degrees can be divided into three general categories. The first is STEM—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—for which, in the United States, there is a chronic shortage of graduates.

Next, there are what might be termed “practical and vocational” degrees—agriculture, business, education, law enforcement, legal professions, health care, and public administration.

Finally, there are the degrees for which few good jobs exist—English literature, ethnic and gender studies, history, liberal arts, and social sciences.

America’s class of 2017 graduates earned 1.1 million practical degrees, and apart from business majors (381,000) of which there is an oversupply, most of these graduates are going to find a decent job. But the number of unmarketable degrees, 479,000, greatly exceeded the number of STEM degrees awarded, 377,000, and about 17 percent of those STEM degrees were earned by foreign students.

Keeping America’s Public Universities Financially Solvent

A perfect storm has hit America’s universities. To adapt to new economic realities and to serve the needs of the American people, dramatic changes have to be made. And in publicly funded colleges and universities, these changes could be made overnight by changing the conditions of receiving public funds. What needs to change isn’t complicated.

First, fire all diversity, equity, and inclusion employees. Nationally, this will save billions in taxpayer money. Second, remove all references to race and ethnicity on college applications; maybe even devise a way to eliminate the ability of admissions offices to know the sex of the applicant.

Next, set a ceiling on admissions and degrees awarded in English literature, ethnic and gender studies, liberal arts, and social sciences. Make this new ceiling reduce the number of degrees available in these majors by at least 50 percent.

In order to restore academic excellence to these still vital fields of study, make SAT scores the sole criteria for student applicants to compete for these limited spots. Since the faculty will also have to be reduced in these disciplines, require all faculty to reapply for their positions and evaluate them based on their knowledge of the Western Canon. Perhaps better yet, just make all of them take an SAT test, to eliminate those with marginal scholastic aptitude.

Finally, with some of the money that is saved, expand the capacity of America’s STEM departments across the nation. Admit all those students with high SAT scores who, to date, have been passed over in favor of foreign applicants or lower scoring members of protected status groups.

This is an anti-racist solution. It calls for blind college applications using objective criteria. If members of “underrepresented groups” believe their SAT performance is substandard because of discrimination, they need to understand that an entire parasitic bureaucracy has developed to nurture this useless narrative, and it hurts them more than it helps them.

Some racism no doubt remains here and there in America. But did racism stop Asian Americans from logging academic and household income achievements consistently exceeding those of white Americans? Does racism explain why Nigerian immigrants are the most successful ethnic group in the United States?

Underrepresented minorities can believe that they are victims, but perfect proportional representation in all aspects of society will never be achieved, and the harder you try to enforce it, the more tyrannical and corrupt society will become. They need to look to the things within their own communities and within their own lives that they can change, such as rates of single-parent households, which is a critical factor in predicting a child’s success later in life.

Overall, Americans are realizing that college is not necessarily a wise choice for everyone. There are trades that pay exceedingly well, yet have trouble attracting new apprentices. There is military service. And there are ways to use online resources to get educated these days that don’t require four years of college, and cost a pittance by comparison.

Near the end of his discussion at the Hoover Institution, Hanson offered a disturbing warning. He said, in reference to the American economy, “I don’t think we’re prepared yet in the areas we need to be to be autonomous from China.” He is right. Tough choices are ahead. But for those willing to work hard, it is also a tremendous opportunity.

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About Edward Ring

Edward Ring is a senior fellow of the Center for American Greatness. He is also the director of water and energy policy for the California Policy Center, which he co-founded in 2013 and served as its first president. Ring is the author of Fixing California: Abundance, Pragmatism, Optimism (2021) and The Abundance Choice: Our Fight for More Water in California (2022).

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