In a few hours, I’ll be posting the piece on how expensive college has gotten and why to the LBO website. In the meanwhile, a dreadful article, “Why the Student Protesters Are Wrong,” published by a Manhattan Institute front called Minding the Campus needs some correction.
The author, Daniel Bennett, is a policy analyst at a right-wing think tank with a creepy name: The Center for College Affordability & Productivity. The director of the think tank is Richard Vedder, who wrote a book on how great Wal-Mart is, which gives you an idea of what they mean by productivity. In his article, Bennett says that student protesters are wrong to blame steep tuition hikes on “hard-pressed” state and local governments:
State and local subsidies to public colleges and universities increased by 44% in real (inflation-adjusted) dollars during the 25-year period between 1982 and 2007. Had colleges managed to hold their cost increases to the level of inflation over this period, real tuition prices would be slightly less today than they were 25 years ago.
What he doesn’t tell you is that over the same period, real GDP increased by 126% (nearly three times as much as state and local support), and total student enrollment by 47%. So state and local subsidies lagged enrollment slightly and lagged our economic capacity to subsidize education massively.
No one who knows anything about social statistics and cares about careful argument would ever cite a stat like a 44% increase in subsidies in isolation, without putting it in some sort of comparative perspective. So, either Bennett is ignorant of the use of statistics, or is consciously using them in a propagandistic fashion. Since Bennett has a master’s in applied economics, and since he quickly shifts to one of the right-wing’s favorite explanations of tuition inflation, excessively generous federal support, conclusions about the motives for his use of the isolated stat almost draw themselves.