I've been thinking a lot about college lately. It's not as though it's staring me in the face, either. The oldest is finishing his freshman year in high school. The youngest is still in elementary school.
Still, what's occurring on America's college campuses is on my front burner.
First and foremost is the ever-escalating cost of a four-year degree — the cause of many a sleepless night for moms and dads. Tuition, fees, room and board for many private colleges has now hit $60,000 a year. Middle income parents usually qualify for some aid, but how much? And will they be able to set aside enough for their other kids? The same challenge applies to public colleges, where the price tag is lower but nevertheless represents a huge commitment from everyone other than wealthy families.
Another concern is the value of a liberal arts degree in today's society. What was once the gold standard is under increasing scrutiny. Our technology economy is the primary culprit. Post-industrial American employers value science and economics over English and history. Accordingly, business and engineering schools continue to do a brisk business, while many law schools are cutting back on class size and telling their students that the days of relatively easy job placements are gone.
The statistics tell the real story. Over the next six years, America's 300,000 additional law graduates will be competing for approximately 73,000 law-related jobs. Top of the class grads from elite schools will continue to find fertile ground and attractive starting salaries. Not so much for everyone else. The bottom line is that the days of smart kids going to law school because they are unsure of their career path is over. Just not enough jobs and too much debt.
A third issue is familiar to my readers, yet seems to be getting worse over time. I refer to uber-left academic indoctrination that dominates our university environment.
Many of you are familiar with a famous maxim often (albeit falsely) attributed to Winston Churchill regarding political maturation: "If you're not a liberal when you're 25, you have no heart. If you're not a conservative by the time you're 35, you have no brain."
But there is something different about today's campus-based progressivism. This brand proceeds far beyond a familiar anti-war, pro-choice and affirmative action agenda. It is decidedly more far reaching — radical redistribution of wealth, a preoccupation with "white privilege," government sponsored medicine, open borders, retrenchment abroad and an aggressively intrusive federal government. These and other a la carte causes are accompanied by an arrogant intolerance of dissenting views and a longing for an "offense-less" society.
Don't believe me? Check out this year's list of disinvited commencement speakers, the proliferation of campus-based "speech codes," the newly minted offense of "micro aggressions" (tiny offenses that could lead to major offenses), and my new personal favorite "trigger warnings" — academic materials that could trigger symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in those who have experienced racism, sexism, classism, chauvinism, homophobia, colonialism, imperialism, nativism and presumably the heartbreak of psoriasis.
All of which creates an interesting dilemma for parents. Every parent wants their child to be successful. A proven avenue to success is a college degree — the more competitive the school, the better. And so, despite financial hardship, most parents are happy to sacrifice to ensure their child's future.
This wonderful moral arrives with a caveat, however. At most schools, America's young adults are exposed to a steady dose of advanced leftist theology directly at odds with the values (many if not most) parents have attempted to instill in them.
This theology includes a rather value-less approach to "values." Women in combat — same as men. Illegal immigration — same as legal immigration. Same sex marriage — same as traditional marriage. Social Security disability — same as work. It's "Occupy Wall Street" in a syllabus, at great expense to you and yours. And know that public opposition will label you with whatever "ic" or "ism" the P.C. police decide to bestow. (See list above.)
Of course, our institutions of higher learning have long been bastions of secular progressivism. What distinguishes today's brand is an insidious intolerance toward dissenting views — a doctrinal approach heretofore alien to open dialogue and "liberal" education.
Maybe post-Obama millennials will become reacquainted with freedom. It used to have quite a cachet. Students even led mass protests to support it. Here, one can really "hope" for "change."
Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s column appears Sundays. The former Maryland governor and member of Congress is a partner at the law firm King & Spalding and the author of "Turn this Car Around" and "America: Hope for Change" — books about national politics. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.To respond to this commentary, send an email to email@example.com. Please include your name and contact information.