College Costs Soaring Due to America’s Education-Industrial Complex

The cost of education remains a major obstacle for many Americans. To compound the problem, many college graduates eager to start working end up unemployed. And being in debt and unemployed is no way to start adult life.

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Besides the economy, which cycles over time, there are two reasons seldom discussed that are responsible for college debt and graduate unemployment. One is political and the other personal.

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Politicians, under pressure from constituents and special interest lobbyists, are often too eager to provide populist and ill-targeted solutions as opposed to solutions that work. One example out of many is when employers shirk their responsibility and costs to provide the necessary on-the-job training for their potential employees and demand the education industry do it for them — something that general education was never meant to do and cannot do but politicians seem to always want to fund.

Excessive government spending on anything almost always results in excessive waste, corruption, and higher costs. Therefore, unwarranted or excessive government spending on higher education, especially in lending, is one of the major reasons why education is so expensive. (This is true for education in general, but this article is limited to post-secondary education.)

As government provides excess funding, costs increase because educational institutions and special interests know funds necessary to expand and buy their services and products are available. The direct interaction necessary to control programs and costs between the service provider and the paying customer is broken. President Obama’s recent offer to make community college free is the latest example.

This government largesse has created an education industry of vast political, private, and public special interests. This “Education Industrial Complex” is every bit as unmanageable as its more infamous sibling the Military Industrial Complex, first introduced by President Eisenhower in 1961. As government has expanded, industrial complexes now exist not only in education and the military but in health, energy, environment, and others.

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Industrial complexes primarily have two attributes. First, there is a large federal cabinet-level or equivalent agency behind it. The Departments of Defense, Education, Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security, as well as agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Internal Revenue Service, are important examples.

The second attribute of the complex is that proponents must be able to hide and effectively use emotional arguments when legitimate ones fail. So the public is inundated with “for the country,” “for the children,” “for mother earth,” “income equity,” and countless other tear jerking cries for more programs and taxes.

Flush with money, industrial complex members are often just looking out for their own self-interests, and the usefulness of a program is not measured by its need, but its value to the individual members.

Government and politics have certain important dynamics. In the case of the military, for example, weapons systems not required are built, those no longer needed are kept, and hammers cost $400. In education, there are courses, programs, and disciplines that are over-funded in proportion to their societal or market needs. One result: instead of $400 hammers, we find $400 textbooks.

Colleges offer courses and training few really need, private companies offer education services preying on industry created fears, and politicians offer a never-ending stream of financial assistance programs. The end result is that all industrial complexes corrupt, weaken, or outright destroy their legitimate missions, leaving complexes’ members the winners and the nation and its people the losers.

Students also bear some responsibility for their debt when they allow themselves to fall prey to perceptions or bad academic advice. Many students are led to believe that attending an out of state public school is better than attending a local public college. In limited selected cases that may be true, but in most cases it is not. These students then go off to college to take courses or seek degrees that are unmarketable, or can be taken inexpensively at a community college, or at some other local publicly funded school while they live at home and work part time.

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Exceptions to the following statement abound–but many talented young adults need to resist the go-to-college-at-any-cost pressure and decide whether they should waste (yes, I said waste) four years in college. Some have natural talents. For others, trade schools are a great option, are relatively inexpensive, and offer opportunities in satisfying good paying jobs in a wide variety of trades. If government has money to burn, it should try promoting more trade schools.

Other students go off to school because at 18 they want to spread their wings. Only to get their wings clipped at 22, at home, in debt, and unemployed. The fast food industry is already full of disgruntled college graduates serving fries, trying to pay off a debt, and consoling themselves that can read Beowulf in its original Old English.



Tony Corvo is a retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel with a Ph.D. in physics. He is active in local Beavercreek, Ohio politics and is the author of All Politics is Loco: Musings from the Conservative Next Door. He and his wife have two grown daughters. He writes extensively on local issues. Many of his recent articles can be found at

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