The State System’s Aristotelian dichotomy

The State System’s Aristotelian dichotomy

A newspaper editorial last week on how to best “reform” the failure that, in many ways, is the 14 schools of the State System of Higher Education, implored state legislators to “make their goal the greatest possible opportunity for the greatest number of Pennsylvania students.”

But it’s just those kinds of platitudinal entreaties run amok that have left State System schools in such a mess.

Admission criteria isn’t exactly what one would call selective as enrollment flags. That means some students who have no business in college are admitted – struggling, failing and wasting time and money (theirs and taxpayers’).

And some graduation rates, higher than expected, raise questions about academic rigor. Which raises ancillary questions about intellectual honesty — that being juicing numbers to justify existence.

The newspaper editorial lamented that “Diminishing support” – that is, reducing taxpayer subsidies – “to the state-supported institutions is not the answer to the State System’s problems.”

But, neither, of course, is throwing good money after bad into a dysfunctional system that disserves taxpayers and too many students.

As Jake Haulk, president of the Allegheny Institute, noted last September (in Policy Brief Vol. 17, No. 39), “some of the dramatic actions needed to create a more robust and viable system” thus far have been dismissed.

That would include closings and/or consolidation and taking on a faculty union allowed to strike and to hold students and the system hostage.

Some have even called many commonsense reforms called for by a Legislature-commissioned Rand Corp. study “radical,” meaning it as a pejorative.

Among those recommendations (some mirroring those of this institute) – merging the number of State System schools and instituting a rather novel approach to oversight: good management. Ahem.

Yet even the Rand study does not recommend the complete closure of any of the 14 State System schools.

Union types, of course, blame what union types usually blame – a supposed lack of taxpayer support. As if filling this educratic rat hole with the proverbial “more Benjamins” is a magical – or any other kind of — “solution.”

Yet, Kenneth Mash, who heads the State System faculty union, persists:

“It looks like this” (Rand Corp. study) “is in line with what’s desired by those who are hostile to public education in the commonwealth. I think the whole thing is pretty much a farce.”

Never mind that the real farce is what inexcusably has been allowed to pass for higher education at these schools for far too long. “Hostile to public education”? How about hostile to waste, intellectual and monetary?

Adds Cynthia Shapira, chairwoman of the State System’s Board of Governors:

“Our 100,000 students and our entire commonwealth depend on having access to high-quality, high-value educational opportunities provide.”

Never mind that the record suggests progressively lower-quality and lower-value education. Never mind that basic demographics suggest such a large system is not sustainable and, as is, will promote neither quality nor value but invokes the Law of Diminishing Returns.

The great Greek philosopher Aristotle is said to have once been asked how much the educated were superior to the uneducated. “As much as the living are to the dead,” he responded.

It is no hyperbole to conclude that a failure to fundamentally change how Pennsylvania’s State System schools operate and educate will result in such a very stark Aristotelian dichotomy.

Colin McNickle is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).