Time for Big Cuts in Education Spending?

America spends far more on education than countries like Germany, Japan, Australia, Ireland, and Italy, both as a percentage of its economy, and in absolute terms. Yet despite this lavish government support for education, college tuition in the U.S. is skyrocketing, reaching levels of $50,000 or more a year at some colleges, and colleges are effectively rewarded for increasing tuition by mushrooming federal financial-aid spending.  Americans can’t read or do math as well as the Japanese, even though America spends way more (half again more) on education than Japan does, as a percentage of income, according to the CIA World Fact Book.

In light of this, it is easy to see why some education experts like Neal McCluskey are floating the idea of “draconian education cuts” to shake up a rotten educational establishment.

Professor Glenn Harlan Reynolds at Instapundit notes that “some spending on educational institutions” may actually have a “negative” effect on education.  People endure useless college courses to get paper credentials, but they get their actual education elsewhere, through internships and work.  One of Professor Reynolds’  readers suggests that competition from “independent scholars” via the “internet” and elsewhere may improve education by providing competition with established universities that offer “little real education.”

Unfortunately, the colleges are well aware of this threat, and rather than improve themselves in response to competition, they are urging the government to crack down on one form of competition, for-profit colleges.  The Obama administration is now doing just that, waging a war on for-profit colleges, by subjecting them, but not traditional “non-profit” colleges, to so-called “gainful employment” rules that many non-profit liberal-arts colleges would flunk.  To try to rationalize this discrimination, the administration trumpeted a GAO report that has now been thoroughly discredited.

College tuition is often a rip-off, since most people who went to college because of rising college-attendance in recent years wound up in unskilled jobs (including janitors with Ph.D’s), and tuition is skyrocketing faster than housing costs did during the real estate bubble. (100 colleges charge at least $50,000 a year, compared to five in 2008-09.)

In recent years, spending on college administrators has risen massively. One study found an average increase of 61 percent, in inflation-adjusted terms, between 1993 and 2007; one leading university increased spending on administrators by 600 percent. Bush increased federal education spending 58 percent faster than inflation, while Obama seeks to double it. Spending has exploded at the K-12 level: per-pupil spending in the U.S. is among the highest in the world, and “inflation-adjusted K-12 spending tripled over the last 40 years.”

Image credit: Honeywell-Nobel Initiative’s flickr photostream.