By David Tulis
Gov. Bill Haslam’s Tennessee Promise program of free associate degrees for high school grads is being flooded with applications, not to anyone’s surprise. Twenty thousand had been expected to sign up, but 43,000 sought to enter the scholarship program the governor says is critical for factories in the state.
In a presentation this week before the Tennessee Association of Manufacturers the governor said enrollment has dropped in state community colleges. The Republican freebie promises to keep alive the government system of schools with its extensive payroll and plants as market forces steadily erode its rationale and more strongly highlight its outdated structure.
“If you talk to our manufacturers, I think they would say they love everything about Tennessee, but we’re concerned about the talents that’s here long term,” Gov. Haslam says. People who run factories and produce goods, almost by default, propose and applaud state solutions to what are labor market conditions.
Paul Loftin, president of Siskin Steel, says more people with two-year degrees are needed. “It’s taking a different individual to fill those jobs So, this initiative to make certain that people in Tennessee — particularly the first two years of college is paid for — is just outstanding That is just going to benefit manufacturing in so many ways.” If Tennesseans aren’t better graduates on entering the workforce, Mr. Loftin says, employers will bring people in from other parts of the U.S. to work here.
The ungrammaticality of that quote (pursuant to TV12’s report) isn’t as remarkable as Mr. Loftin’s assumption that a government program to fill classrooms at two-year colleges on the taxpayer’s dime is a good idea. But Mr. Loftin, like many others in the business and political establishment, thinks in terms of outcomes. His is outcome-based thinking — pragmatism. What rules is not a moral principle, but an end result. He accepts, in his public formulations, a state-run solution to the inadequacy of people in the labor market.
Why are people badly off
Tennesseans are impoverished educationally because of its constitutional provision (Article XI, section 12) for “the maintenance, support and eligibility standards of a system of free public schools.” For one, no eligibility standard exists for state schools. All comers are welcome. The effect has been for decades a giant jobs program created with the public purpose of teaching every child everything he needs to know. Tennessee Promise continues this cartel’s open-ended mistake — all high schoolers welcome into our program, and we’ll pay any amount the student can’t raise under federal grants or lottery scholarships.
Tennessee’s educational standards are deplorable. Its literacy, creativity, ingenuity, entrepreneurialism are curtailed by the existence of self-perpetuating free schools without an eligibility standard. Odd as it may sound, schools per se have retarded education.
The failure of state capitalism in this important field of human endeavor and service is becoming increasingly obvious in the digital era. Today the liberation of data, lecture halls, conferences, books from the physical world cast into doubt the existing model of learning. Schools got their start in ancient times when manuscripts and books were rare, and scholarship came through lectures and conversations.
Economics of cartels
Notes free market analyst Charles Hugh Smith, “One reason for this persistence may be that tenured professor jobs with six-figure salaries, excellent health insurance, and generous pensions are increasingly rare in the private sector. The academic priesthoods that benefit from the current system have a vast self-interest in perpetuating it no matter what. The ancient practices of oral lectures and costly texts are actively blocking lower cost superior methods. The organizational imperatives of this ancient system are clearly obsolete.”
Why does Gov. Haslam and the state establishment continue in their support of an untenable model? Mr. Smith proposes and predicts a shift toward accrediting students directly as accreditation power of institutions fade. “[T]he current system retains a monopoly on assessing student learning and granting credit for demonstrated accomplishment. The schools are able to do this because they have arranged a monopoly on accreditation. This is ultimately a grant of state power.
“As a result, modern colleges and universities have collectively become a rent-seeking cartel, an alliance of nominally competitive institutions that maintains a highly profitable monopoly of accreditation. To grasp the power of the cartel, consider a typical Physics I course even at MIT is almost entirely based on Newtonian mechanics, and the subject matter is entirely in the public domain. Only a cartel could arrange to charge $1,500 and more per student for tuition and texts, in the face of far lower cost and superior quality materials, for subject matter that is no more recent than the 19th Century.”
Mr. Smith has explored a recalibration of education via what he calls “the nearly free university.”
“Breaking down this system means developing alternate methods to accredit what already exists. This is individual learning. Rather than accrediting institutions, the NFU must aim at accrediting individuals directly.”
The digital revolution is a powerful force for decentralization that state cronies aren’t seeing.
Sources: Charles Hugh Smith, “Higher Education Cartel, Meet Creative Destruction,” Sept. 10, 2013, Oftwominds.com. An important website.
Louie Brogdon, “Haslam seeks mentors to answer Tennessee Promise Demand,” Chattanooga Times Free Press, Oct. 29, 2014
Alisha Searl, “Governor Haslam Discusses Manufacturing in the TN Valley,” TV12 wdef.com, Oct. 27, 2014