Bernie Sanders wants the federal government to pay off current student debts and allow future students to go to school free. His approach points out a disturbing trend in American public life. We fight, argue and seem to be willing to spend immense amounts of money and time addressing results, and spend almost no time or interest with causes.

One of four adult Americans currently has education debts that average somewhere between $28,000 to $38,000 (depending upon the source). That adds up to more than $1.5 trillion. In the last 50 years, the cost of higher education, adjusted for inflation, has doubled.

What is the cause?

No one seems to be interested in the cause. No one, it seems, wants to challenge the conventional wisdom that the costs are inevitable.

They are not.

First, the idea that everyone needs to go to college to achieve the American dream is false. Some have described it as a “scam.” Second, by thinking outside the box, it is possible to cut tuition in half.

Pull up the “fact” books for Iowa’s universities and look at how they spend their money. They are public institutions; the numbers are there for anyone to see.

Third, it is possible for each state, including Iowa, to create one “free” university where students actually get to live Sander’s dream.

It is possible to do this with no increase in public spending.

But, and here’s the rub, the free university would provide only an education, and nothing else, including any nod to the current political or social movements of the day.

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There are two major obstacles to these proposals. First, education has become a huge, bloated bureaucratic enterprise that houses and entertains myriad personnel, activities, and political movements that have very little to do with actual education. It is all very expensive, and like the Washington swamp, there are entrenched individuals who either do not want to change or can’t even imagine the idea of change.

Second, apparently few care about actually doing something about it.

Several years ago, I did some research that suggested we could educate college students much more economically than we do currently.

I published several articles on the topic. I sent material to my representative in Des Moines. I sent an opinion piece to the leading magazine for higher education administrators.

In other words, I did what a citizen is supposed to do. The response?

There was none. No response from the University of Northern Iowa, local educators, or parents.

No response from Des Moines, and only a “sorry, but drop dead” response from the administrative magazine.

Other than the idea itself, there was no reason why anyone should care what I proposed. I am well aware that most of us are insignificant.

Nevertheless, the ideas did address the cause. Some people, however, are only interested in the results of the problem, and the benefits those results create. The results are where politicians, like Bernie, and bureaucratic administrators benefit while playing their games.

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Dennis Clayson is a marketing professor at the University of Northern Iowa. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

and do not reflect those of the University of Northern Iowa.


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