Can The Current Universities Be Saved?

Victor Davis Hanson
American Greatness

Elite higher education in America—long unquestioned as globally preeminent—is facing a perfect storm. Fewer applicants, higher costs, impoverished students, collapsing standards, and increasingly politicized and mediocre faculty reflect a collapse of the university system.

The country is waking up to the reality that a bachelor’s degree no longer equates with graduates being broadly educated and analytical. Just as often, they are stereotyped as pampered, largely ignorant, and gratuitously opinionated.

No wonder polls show a drastic loss of public respect for higher education and, specifically, a growing lack of confidence in the professoriate.

Each year, there are far fewer students entering college. Despite a U.S. population 40 million larger than 20 years ago, fertility rates have fallen in two decades by some 500,000 births per year.

Meanwhile, from 1980 to 2020, room, board, and tuition increased by 170 percent.

Skyrocketing costs cannot be explained by inflation alone, given that campuses have lightened faculty teaching loads while expanding administrative staff. At Stanford, there is nearly one staffer or administrative position for every student on campus.

At the same time, to vie for a shrinking number of students, colleges began offering costly in loco parentis counseling, Club Med-style dorms and accommodations, and extracurricular activities.

As applicants grew scarcer and expenses went up, universities began offering “full-service” student-aid packages, heavily reliant on government-subsidized student loans. The collective indebtedness of over 40 million student borrowers is nearing $2 trillion.

Worse still, an entire new array of therapeutic majors and minors appeared in the social sciences. Most of these gender/race/environmental courses did not emphasize analytical, mathematical, or oral and written skills. Such course work did not impress employers.

Faculty hiring had become increasingly non-meritocratic based on diversity/equity/inclusion criteria. New faculty hires have sought to institutionalize self-serving DEI and recalibrate higher education to prepare a new generation for self-perpetuating radical ideologies.

At the more elite campuses, racial quotas vastly curtailed the number of Asian and white students. But that racialist social engineering project required dropping the SAT requirement and comparative ranking of high school grade point averages.

As less well-prepared students entered college, faculty either inflated grades (80 percent are A/A- now at Yale), watered down their course requirements, or added new soft-ball classes. To do otherwise while attempting to retain old standards earned targeted faculty charges of racism and worse.

Another way to square the circle of rising costs and fewer and poorer students was to attract foreign students. They pay the full costs of college, especially those on generous stipends from the Middle East and China. Nearly a million foreign nationals, the majority from illiberal regimes, are now here on full scholarships.

While here, many see their newfound freedoms as invitations to attack America. Once here, they too often romanticize the very autocratic governments and illiberal values of their homelands that they seemingly sought to escape by coming to America.

Most foreign students assume they are exempt from the consequences of violating campus rules or laws in general. After all, they pay the full cost of their education and thus partially subsidize those who do not.

Almost half of all those enrolled in college never graduate. Those who do, on average, require six years to do so.

All these realities explain why teenagers increasingly opt for trade schools, vocational education, and community colleges. They prefer to enter the work force largely debt-free and in demand as skilled, sought-after tradespeople.

Most feel that if the old general education curriculum has been destroyed at weaponized universities, then there is no great loss in skipping the traditional BA degree. A far better selection of demanding and well-taught classes can be found online at a lower cost.

The result is a disaster for both higher education and a wake-up call for the country at large.

Entire generations are now suffering from prolonged adolescence as they drag out college to consume their early and mid-twenties. The unfortunate result for the country is a radical delay in marriage, childbearing, and home ownership—all the time-honored catalysts for adulthood and the responsibilities that come with it.

Politicized faculty, infantilized students, and mediocre classes have combined to erode the prestige of college degrees, even at once elite colleges. A degree from Columbia no longer guarantees either maturity or preeminent knowledge but is just as likely a warning to employers of a noisy, poorly educated graduate more eager to complain to Human Resources than to enhance a company’s productivity.

Yet it may not be all that unfortunate that much of higher education is going the way of malls, movie theaters, and CDs. The country needs far more skilled physical labor and less prolonged adolescence and debt.

STEM courses, professional schools, and traditional campuses are better insulated from mediocrity and should survive. Otherwise, millions more starting adulthood at 18 debt-free and fewer encumbered, ignorant, and entitled at 25 is not a bad thing for the country.

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43 thoughts on “Can The Current Universities Be Saved?”

  1. Sharon Thoms

    You really nailed it, Professor! The great universities in this country are nearly unrecognizable in comparison with what they were when I was in college 60 years ago. Thank you for your sound advice to today’s youth.

  2. People leaving college because of the price, value of education is on the decline
    Is an indication into a culture that has no freedoms, such as speech and very political something we never signed up for 2 year colleges and trade schools are and up and running without debt We need more skilled workers than elites But some professions are always going to exist

  3. Mimi Dole Gustavson

    Two of my sisters had the state of Maryland pay for their education because at that time they really needed teachers, they had to agree to teach in the state of Maryland for a few years after they graduated. So why can’t we assess what our economy needs and possibly subsidized those with qualifying grades, and if somebody wants to take advance basket, weaving … great, let them pay for it.

    1. LeifFraNorden

      The Obama regime did away with privatized student loans. In a private system, investors would make loans at market rates to students could pay them back. You would get a loan if you studied engineering. If you majored in Michael Jackson studies, you would not.

    2. Michael T Kennedy

      That was part of the original loan program. In January of 1960 I applied for a new student loan. I listed my major as premed. I was turned down because “ most premed majors don’t get into medical school.” I chose another major and two years later I was in medical school.


      Here’s a better idea-get the government out of the education business altogether. No subsidies, for anyone. Let schools offer what students want. As VDH describes, this process is already underway, as kids who want a practical education without debt switch to trades. Let these bloated progressive madrassas wither away and die.

  4. Eric Bettinger

    Mr. Hanson,
    PLEASE publish (perhaps with Dr. Sowell)
    Resources and Sources for people that want the data and information to base their opinions!

    Too often, citizens do not know how to find information!

    ps how might I ask you to write a forward or review a book I’m writing on public education?

    1. These rioters won’t listen! Those in darkness can’t see truth in front of their faces. Our media makes it even more difficult because as Ben Harnwell said ” the job of the media is to misinform us about things we know and do not inform about things we ought to know”. The propaganda system, foreign influences, government corruption, open borders, increase in no penalty criminal activity (except for those on the right) and evil influences that permeate our culture are now wreaking havoc and destroying lives and our country.

  5. These universities cannot be saved. America would be much better overall if the vast majority of universities were burned to the ground and the faculty and leadership imprisoned or sent to reeducation camps.

    1. Elsie Jacobson

      It appears that many of our colleges ARE reeducation camps. Big bucks from the ME and Soros types are reeducating our youth in a way that can’t be fixed.

  6. One big issue with these so called institutions of higher learning is the amount of money, time and resources spent on sports. Just imagine what could be accomplished with the multi millions given to football coaches. Alabama routinely payed out multiple millions to Saban. All the while watching the players unable to speak properly or do simple math equations. Mr Hansen is 100% correct in his summation.

  7. I’ve been preaching this gospel since I got my BS degree 40 years ago. This nation’s entire education/indoctrination complex is hopelessly mired in radicalism and profound mediocrity. My cohort is retiring now – we’re probably the last to have received at least the rudiments of instruction in geography, history, grammer, and government. I was not taught to use the Oxford comma however.

  8. Another brilliant observation by VDH.

    I’m in the “4th quarter” of my career and looking forward to retirement. Today’s nonsense at the universities makes me reflect back on my college days and how different it all was back then. I was in my late 30’s and pushed by my employer to “get your BA!”. Working full time, going to night school when the classes were dismissed at 10:00pm and paying my own tuition to a small Division III school in Orange, CA. My student debt has long since been paid off, but sometimes I wonder if I would’ve accepted a student loan forgiveness executive order by George W. Bush?

  9. I started college in the 1970s, dropped out, and started again twice more. I could never finish because I couldn’t stomach the indoctrination and/or outright brainwashing I encountered even back then at a COMMUNITY college level. Heck, I even saw it in high school.

    Even as a dumb hick, I could see the hidden hand of Communists at work. People like to correct me and suggest that it’s Marxism at work. That’s just semantics, in my opinion. The end result of Marxism is Communism, and Communism is nothing more than fascism by committee.

    As a dumb hick, I could see 40 years ago that the Army-McCarthy hearings literally drove the Communists underground, forcing them to effect the destruction of American law and culture through stealthy infiltration of every level of society.

    Public education and technology have been their perfect weapons, with television their primary tool. Social media wouldn’t be what it is today had television not literally re-wired the brains of humanity. We would all do well to rewind our culture a bit and become quasi Luddites, myself included. The old ways really ARE better for humanity.

    Until then, horrified Americans should actually start protecting their offspring and stop throwing their precious children into the public sewer system on a daily basis, where they are literally being brainwashed by people who want your kind DEAD. HOMESCHOOL YOUR CHILDREN, PEOPLE!

  10. A first step would be for the Federal government to get out of the student loan business. Let the universities bear the debt until the student graduates. The universities may be incentivized to provide a valuable education, so their customer can pay them back.

  11. My wife and I married very young and against parental wishes. We are still together after 60 years. I worked full time while attending college and graduated in 6 1/2 years. I paid cash at the beginning of each semester. I worked at multiple manual labor jobs because I had a strong back and no other marketable skills at 18 years old. I grabbed an opportunity for an office job, worked at the lowest level in a computer department, taught myself to program, and ultimately rose to manage major corporations’ software development. I doubt that there are very many youth today that have that same drive and determination. Very few will do well unless they have a goal and a plan. Those that do will do well whether in the trades or other endeavors, because they will be rewarded for their hard work.

  12. James Atkinson

    Academic standards have been sliding down hill for several decades. As any calamity, what begins out of sight of the larger population, eventually rises with much bewilderment. “Gee! What happened?” In 1963 I received a dual BA, Econ/Finance. As an under graduate, a thesis was required. It was the final year my university required comprehensive exams of every graduate. It was pass/fail. Had you been loitering on campus for four years and could not deliver a few found statements of your major, you did not get a diploma.

    Later, I discovered that much of what I learned was barely useful. Even my graduate level engineering schooling was marginal. It became obvious that a “student” is a creature out of Pinocchio’s Pleasure Island to serve over paid institutions. Eventually, through rigorous on the job training, together with serious professional industry private schooling, I became functional in my profession. By the time I became a senior corporate officer, I was less likely to hire an Ivy school graduate. All of our applicants had to pass a rigorous examination to be hired. The business of business is real business, not a kindergarten for lapsed university students.
    James Atkinson

    1. Interesting point.
      Luckily, i had great prof of physics at the small College of Puget Sound then soon to become the U of PS or UPS. It was a Methodist College with a land grant. It was respectable back then, more recently, it went woke. Finally, after a few years of the clarion change, I wrote them to explain why i decided to discontinue donating my smallish support. It has only gotten worse due to the Board’s selection of president. UPS has moved a long way from the days of Dr Thompson.

      It seems those who ran and still run Pinocchio’s Pleasure Island suffer a disconnect from the realities of the real world. Still, today so many push credentials when actually it means so little. They strut and preem while not knowing what they don’t know.

  13. Congress is overspending by a trillion dollars every 100 days, and this is probably accelerating.

    So higher education is on fire and will burn down.

    1. Craig Brookins

      Brenda, I prefer “dumb hicks” to pseudo-elite, self-serving academics. Dumb hicks can actually make things , do things or repair things that are necessary for a civilized society.
      Hubristic elites only destroy things. Anything that they have not created or sanctioned must be eliminated. Their imprimatur signifies destruction!

  14. Nationalise all the universities. Then seize all their investments and other assets to be used for paying down the national debt. Students can enroll at local colleges to learn useful life skills such as plumbing and building. As for the staff and administrators. Scrap their nice little jobs and direct them to the back of the queue where they belong. Leeches all.

  15. VDH is a true American.

    I was on the 5 yr plan in the late 70’s. Withdrew two semesters. Worked 40-56 hrs. week, partied, no time for homework. But, I got through, I persevered when the odds were not in my favor. Key to this was knowing I had no one to fall back on and determination. Double major BBA, Master’s from work and PhD in life.

    Few peep today make sacrifices. I encourage young adults to learn a trade – plumber, electrician, HVAC. Put your time in, learn and be your own man when your thirty. Many are not realistic, failing to understand their perceived vs. actual value.

  16. Company Interviewer: “I see there is a blank spot on your resume over the 2024 Spring Semester. Did you take some time off?”
    Job Applicant: “Sort of.”
    CI: “Have you ever been arrested?”
    Applicant: “Yes. In the Spring of ’24 I was arrested for disorderly conduct, arson, rioting and mayhem on campus. The charges were dropped by the Los Angeles DA.”
    CI: “Um . . . I see. Well, that’s all for my questions. We’ll be getting back to you.” (We’re never going to hire this idiot).

  17. Scott Thorson

    I have been retired for about 10 years. I owned a computer services firm. Where my company was based, we had a statewide university system. The university located in my city was the largest campus in the system. One of the most consistent challenges I had was finding people with the necessary skills to deploy IT infrastructure across a diverse range of technologies for a wide array of customers. To try to solve this problem, I worked with the local university for about a year to convince them that our market was about deployment of technology, not development of new technology.

    Deployment of technology requires people skilled in specific technologies and holding manufacturer’s certifications. The university only produced people to create technology, not people to deploy technology. The university claimed they could not support a specific manufacturer’s products. Essentially they were creating people with skill sets that had no application in the local market. Most graduates had to leave the state and move thousands of miles from home and family to find employment matching their skills upon graduation. We were paying to export our young people in order for them to benefit from their degrees.

    Today, universities all around the country act in a similar fashion. They can’t see the forest for the trees. At this point, with the decline of higher education so easy to see, trade schools and community colleges produce people much better suited for today’s job market.

  18. Has Harvard been corrupt since the 1960’s – dietary fats were blamed for heart disease and not sugar, as published by Harvard scientists in the New England Journal of Medicine and funded by the sugar research foundation.

  19. DEI = Didn’t Earn It or Don’t Employ Ivies.

    I was the class behind Obama at Columbia but in STEM. Ashamed to mention my Alma Mater.

  20. On the bright side, it seems that the Left’s aversion to reproduce may be what eventually solves this problem. If our birthrate is 1.66 nationally what is it for liberal city dwellers? It’s gotta be about 1? Or less? Why else would the uni party be flooding the country with illegals in the first place? I haven’t been able to find data on this but VDH talked about it last week and a conservative publication mentioned it recently as well. The Shakers died off because they didn’t believe in reproducing either so I’d love to see some more data. We cannot have a functioning county with these nihilists.

  21. The University System has become a societal cancer and is ripe for destruction.
    Add it to the list along with the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, the DHS, the DOE, the EPA, the CDC, the UN…


  22. What’s missing from education is recognition of truth and process and reality. To think we have allowed the climate hoax, the gender paranoia hoax and the one side right all the time delusional ideology to last and infest this long is damning. It will take years of har knocks university teaching to bring this generation around. Seems to be starting now though

  23. It’s NOT just our centers of ‘higher education’… The indoctrination starts in the K-12 areas now and it MUST be addressed… I’m 66 and when I entered middle/high school, civics had already been removed. That was in the 1970s. This has been going on for a LONG time now.

  24. Johnathan Galt

    Universities arose when books were priceless and people had to “go where the books were” to get a proper education.

    An undergraduate degree on the internet should not cost more than $2k today. Tear them down.

  25. Craig Brookins

    Thank you Victor for another article based on fact. As always, your many insights are numerous and there is always at least one passage that resonates in a common sense way. I am obviously paraphrasing your comment about recent poorly educated graduates as they are viewed by prospective employers. The employer sees the “elite” graduate as someone likely to tear down his business rather than one that can contribute to its growth. This viewpoint does not bode well for the Marxist/Anarchist applying for a job.

  26. At Columbia, according to a recent breakdown, the Business, econ and STEM faculty do not support the protests by a large majority. But the Humanities and Social Science (excl: econ) do by a two to one margin. We do see the law school students represented, but then many of those with the economically worthless BAs in the humanities and social sciences go on to law school, which in the past would develop their thinking skills.

    The sheep-herding function of the humanities and social science departments does need to end. Those who insist on knowing can access the body of material by developing a habit of reading or listening to disciplined thinkers discuss issues on podcasts.

    “Real education must ultimately be limited to men who insist on knowing, the rest is mere sheep-herding.” –Ezra Pound

    The “Xerox of the professor” majors will be taken over by AI which is a better student when regurgitation is the goal.

  27. What will happen when nations like China finally realize their motherland educated students are significantly better educated and trained than those they lavish by sending them to the US? China, e.g., already has more students in colleges in the Philippines that the Philippines themselves.

  28. Dr. Hanson, I just love your publications. Being in the academy myself, the issue you have so articulately describe has been the driving force behind my teaching, and, I am happy to say, the private university where I now lead a B.A. program. The focus in our new college is to revive the time-tested purpose of a classical university education: to equip students to think critically about the real world, explore different perspectives on every field of study, and avoid all forms of indoctrination. We practice “viewpoint” diversity, and meritocratic hiring and recruitment. The results thus far have been very encouraging. Thanks for all you do!

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