In a nod to his progressive base and what seems to be a naked tactic to buy the votes of young, educated future Democrats, President Biden seems to have made good on at least one of his campaign promises.
In August, the White House announced a plan to eliminate for borrowers some of the “skyrocketing cumulative federal student loan debt—$1.6 trillion and rising for more than 45 million borrowers.”
“The Department of Education,” the statement read, “will provide up to $20,000 in debt cancellation to Pell Grant recipients [usually awarded only to undergraduate students who display ‘exceptional financial need’] . . , and up to $10,000 in debt cancellation to non-Pell Grant recipients. Borrowers are eligible for this relief if their individual income is less than $125,000 ($250,000 for married couples).”
Criticism of the loan relief program was immediate and ubiquitous, the cost to American taxpayers being foremost among it. Experts estimated the final amounts to range between $360 billion and $427 billion; a forecast from the National Taxpayer Union Foundation (NTUF) also “calculate[d] that the average burden per taxpayer in the U.S. is $2,503.22, up from [its] earlier estimate of $2,085.59.”
Beyond the high projected cost to taxpayers, and even the ability of the President to unilaterally and legally forgive loans in the first place, is the issue of fairness. Why should taxpayers who may have never even attended college themselves be responsible for paying the indebtedness of someone who chose to go to college and signed a loan to make that possible?
Why should low- and moderate-income taxpayers have to assume a portion of loan debt for single households earning up to $125,000 annually and $250,000 for couples, individuals who may well have borrowed to finance medical, business, or law school and have potentially high lifetime earnings?
Why are defaulting or irresponsible borrowers being rewarded with loan relief when millions of other graduates dutifully paid off their loans and now have to contribute to students who didn’t?
Why don’t borrowers who will unfairly benefit from this loan forgiveness have a moral, not to mention legal, obligation to honor the contracts in which they willingly and eagerly entered?
Those fundamental questions aside, student loan debt raises another, very central issue; namely, why has the cost of attending college increased so exponentially, necessitating expensive and burdensome debt, sometimes taking decades to pay off? In fact, from 1971 to 2021, the cost of attending a private college increased at some 4.6 times the rate of inflation over those five decades.
Mentioned as almost an afterthought in the White House statement, the administration is aware that soaring tuition and other costs are directly linked to excessive borrowing, particularly since federal loans, Pell grants, and even loan forgiveness programs like the proposed one serve as a perverse incentive for colleges to raise “sticker prices” for tuition when they know that students are able to easily borrow to cover the outrageously high costs of attending college.
“. . . The Department of Education has already taken significant steps to strengthen accountability,” the statement said, “so that students are not left with mountains of debt with little payoff.
The White House statement did allude to the Department of Education’s intention to “protect future students and taxpayers by reducing the cost of college and holding schools accountable when they hike up prices” and “colleges have an obligation to keep prices reasonable and ensure borrowers get value for their investments, not debt they cannot afford.” But whether forgiving hundreds of billions of dollars of loan debt compels colleges to control costs or achieves the exact opposite effect remains to be seen.
For decades now, university campuses have obsessed over and condemned what they perceive to be “structural racism,” a lack of sufficient “inclusion and diversity,” and both subtle and overt instances of racism that offended minority students and supposedly hindered their attaining equity.
Far from being racist enclaves of white supremacy—places where minority candidates for students, faculty, and administrators are regularly excluded from the institution’s community—every major university actively and aggressively seeks to recruit minorities to fill student and faculty slots, a campaign made evident by the enormous resources allocated for creating diversity offices which facilitate admissions for black students with loosened admission standards, coddle them once admitted, and try to create a campus climate in which black students are recognized, supported, and advanced in ways not shared by their white and Asian peers.
Even though a university campus is an unlikely place to encounter actual racism, from the moment they step foot on campus, students are tutored on how, even at some of the most elite educational institutions in the world, they are oppressed, victims of bigotry, hindered by “systematic and structural racism,” and even subject to unconscious, invisible, and latent racism and oppression by white supremacy.
As if to confirm that universities remain balkanized by identity politics, virtually every university has set up costly and powerful fiefdoms of diversity, equity, and inclusion offices dedicated to recruiting minority students, ferreting out any incidence of hostility, bigotry, or bias, and helping minority students to see themselves as perpetual victims of both real and imagined racism. And these diversocrat fiefdoms are expensive and the investment in their operations has certainly contributed to the escalating cost of attending these schools.
Confirmation of the extent and cost of DEI administrators was revealed in a startling 2021 Heritage Foundation report, “Diversity University: DEI Bloat in the Academy,” written by Jay P. Greene, Ph.D., and James D. Paul.
The “authors found that the average university they sampled listed more than 45 people as having formal responsibility for promoting DEI goals . . . DEI staff levels were 1.4 times larger than the number of professors in these universities’ corresponding history departments. Moreover, the average university had 3.4 people working to promote DEI for every 100 tenured or tenure-track faculty members.”
Leading the nation with the number of administrators tasked with DEI activities was the University of Michigan, which Greene and Paul noted has 163 specifically assigned to DEI roles:
“Nineteen of those people work in a central office of DEI, headed by a Vice Provost for Equity and Inclusion & Chief Diversity Officer, who is subsequently supported by three people with the title Assistant Vice Provost for Equity, Inclusion & Academic Affairs. Five people are listed in the Multicultural Center, another 24 are found in the Center for the Education of Women, and the LGBTQ Spectrum Center has 12 people. Eighteen people are listed on the Multiethnic Student Affairs website with another 14 found at the Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives. Moreover, colleges and departments at the University of Michigan have their own DEI staff.”
More serious than the duplicative bloat of non-instructional personnel are the rich salaries of the chief diversity officers. At Michigan, for instance, as revealed in a Fox News story, the previous “vice provost for equity and inclusion and chief diversity officer until this year, was also the highest-paid DEI official from the top 15 colleges listed” in Heritage report, with a $431,000 salary.
The story goes on to note that “Georgina Dodge, the vice president at the office of diversity and inclusion at the University of Maryland, which employs 71 DEI personnel, makes $358,000 a year . . . .”
“Menah Pratt-Clarke, vice provost for inclusion and diversity at Virginia Tech, which has 83 DEI personnel,” the story continues, “earns over $351,000 annually . . . .” “Kevin McDonald, vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion at the University of Virginia, which has 94 employees devoted to DEI, makes $340,000 annually . . . . And “Sean C. Garrick, vice chancellor for diversity, equity and inclusion at the University of Illinois, earns nearly $330,000 annually . . . even while “the average Illinois full-time professor salary hovers only around $152,000.”
It would be one thing if universities’ exorbitant and questionable investment in DEI staff was yielding tangible results and benefits for the marginalized students they were designed to assist. But studies have found that not only does the obsession with DEI not improve retention or graduation rates, but it also, unfortunately, contributes to a failure to achieve high grades and even to graduate for the very people it was designed to help.
One report produced by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni Institute for Effective Governance, for example, “The Cost of Excess: Why Colleges and Universities Must Control Runaway Spending,” found that “Spending drove up the price of tuition, which was also correlated with increases in net cost for students,” but that “[s]pending had a minimal impact on graduation rates.”
The report also noted that “Spending on student services had no correlation with graduation rates at public institutions,” and that “[a]t private institutions, spending on instruction, administration, and student services had statistically significant, but inconsequential correlations with graduation rates.”
There is another serious unintended consequence of using a university’s DEI bureaucracy to recruit minority students into degree programs for which they are inadequately prepared. The zeal for diversity in classrooms has meant that black students, for example, are admitted into undergraduate and graduate programs with lower grades and test scores than those of their white or Asian peers. Once enrolled, the many diversity administrators see to it that these students are coddled and pushed forward as best they can, often with frustrating results for the student. But the “mismatch” of a student to a school can have serious unintended but not surprising consequences for a minority student.
The subject of a book entitled Mismatch: How Affirmative Action Hurts Students It’s Intended to Help, and Why Universities Won’t Admit It by UCLA law professor Richard Sander (and co-author Stuart Taylor), the mismatch effect is the result of black students gaining admission to law schools as a result of racial preferences, so that their academic records and preparation are weaker than that of their non-black fellow students. Because they then must compete academically with students who are better prepared and whose educational background has equipped them for the rigors of law education, black students have chronically performed poorly when compared to their non-black peers, especially at elite law schools. As Sander put it, “nearly all blacks [are placed] at an enormous academic disadvantage in the schools they attend.”
In a briefing before The United States Commission on Civil Rights, Sander’s testimony on this topic noted that “Half of African-American students are in the bottom ten percent of their law school class at the end of the first year;” that “African-Americans have 2.5 times the drop-out rate of their white counterparts; four times the initial bar failure rate; and six times the chance of never passing the bar,” and that “Two-thirds of black students who drop out after the first year are in the bottom five percent of their class.” Law school graduates are unique in that their success can be measured fairly and comprehensively since all law students eventually take a common bar exam, and here black students perform poorly, as well, failing the bar exam at four times the rate of white graduates. According to Sander’s estimates, more than 40 percent of black students who enter law school never become part of that profession.
The diversocrats on American campuses may recoil at the notion that their efforts to achieve racial equity have unintended, even harmful, consequences, but these inclusion bureaucracies are there precisely to obscure the unintended negative consequences of universities in thrall with DEI.
Not only have they grown into costly and unnecessary administrative divisions in higher education, but the legions of diversity officers, far from achieving actual “inclusion” for their target students, have urged them to see themselves as part of a distinct identity group, a self-identified victim group.
Along with that designation comes a number of accommodations for those not enjoying white privilege—lowered expectations for academic achievement, speech codes to protect coddled students from the “violence” or harm to them from racist speech, black-only “safe” spaces, segregated cultural centers, dorms, and even graduation exercises—all enforced by DEI administrators whose sole function is making students see themselves as victims and then tending to the special needs of these victims on what are purported to be inclusive, diverse campuses.
The fact that DEI bureaucracies are growing exponentially despite the negative effects on the recipients of this moral largesse suggests the willful blindness of progressives who seem to care more about appearing virtuous than they do about benefiting the victims they have both created and continue to harm with their well-intentioned, but destructive, campaign for social justice and racial equity.