Nationalize the Ivy League—What Could Go Wrong? (Hint: Lots)

Let's tread lightly here, comrades.


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In response to William Deresiewicz's recent article in The New Republic about the deficiencies of a modern Ivy League education, Chris Lehmann of In These Times goes full Soviet: Nationalize the universities! He writes:

So rather than taking a sojourn among the working class to round out a deficient elite life curriculum, why not reverse the tacit social logic here? Finish the work begun by the GI Bill—which wreaked a sea change in access to quality higher education via the direct method of driving down its cost—and nationalize American institutions of higher learning, abolishing anything more than a nominal tuition fee. Yes, amid present conditions, this is utopian. But it's no less realistic—and infinitely more democratic—than the expectation that better-trained meritocrats somehow will rescue the rest of us.

This solution ostensibly addresses some of the faults Deresiewicz finds with the operating procedures of Yale and Harvard, which reinforce economic privilege, according to the New Republic piece:

This system is exacerbating inequality, retarding social mobility, perpetuating privilege, and creating an elite that is isolated from the society that it's supposed to lead. The numbers are undeniable. In 1985, 46 percent of incoming freshmen at the 250 most selective colleges came from the top quarter of the income distribution. By 2000, it was 55 percent. As of 2006, only about 15 percent of students at the most competitive schools came from the bottom half. The more prestigious the school, the more unequal its student body is apt to be. And public institutions are not much better than private ones. As of 2004, 40 percent of first-year students at the most selective state campuses came from families with incomes of more than $100,000, up from 32 percent just five years earlier.

The major reason for the trend is clear. Not increasing tuition, though that is a factor, but the ever-growing cost of manufacturing children who are fit to compete in the college admissions game. 

As Deresiewicz notes, universities under the purview of the state are not exactly bastions of equality and affordability. The government's efforts to correct these problems have failed spectacularly.

In other words, let's tread lightly here, comrades.

Reason's Jesse Walker responds to Deresiewicz here.