Four years ago, Obama’s Chicago crew borrowed a page from the Three-Card-Monte hustlers in Manhattan’s Central Park. With the nation distracted by the perils of Obamacare, Democrats quietly hijacked the student loan program from the private sector and handed it to the federal government. “We’ve eliminated the middleman,” they cawed, “and the savings will go to the students we help go to college.”
Well, it hasn’t exactly worked out that way. Since the legislation passed in 2010, student debt has continued to soar. Two-thirds of college students today graduate with debt, averaging some $27,000, and petrified high-school seniors fear that they too will get stuck with it, whether they get into the college of their choice or not.
Last month the White House assured an anxious nation. “Obama will act!”
Yes, the very mention brings on tears of hope and change—not all joyous, of course the federal government has no constitutional role in education.
But what difference, at this point, does the Constitution make?
The crowd in Buffalo stirred with anticipation. Would Obama admit that the government had failed his young supporters, that the “savings” were a deception, and that the seizure was just another federal power grab?
Not quite. Instead, he upped the ante: now that government was funding college education, he said, its bureaucrats will also decide which colleges “deserve” federal funding.
Here’s the Orwellian cant from the White House website: “Obama unveiled his plan to tackle the skyrocketing cost of college by tying billions of dollars in federal student aid to how well colleges rank on affordability and other measures.”
And just what “other measures”? Ah, they will eventually be revealed in “a ratings system the Department of Education will develop by 2015.”
But why can’t Our Leader act now?
“Obama’s plan … would require authorization from a deeply divided Congress,” says WhiteHouse.gov—and only then will the “ratings system” be revealed.
But there are hints: “Colleges that are more affordable, serve more students from poorer backgrounds and have high graduation rates, among other factors, will be rated higher.” Less funding will go to “schools that are not doing as well in the federal government’s opinion.”
Memo to colleges and students: stay in sync with the “government’s opinion”—or else.
“I’ve made it a personal mission to make higher education more affordable,” Obama told his supporters.
Then why is he proposing to make it cost more?
Since the 1970s, Congress has been expanding the availability of student loans. Predictably, college costs expanded as well, at three times the rate of inflation.
Why? Because, when you subsidize something, you get more of it. Subsidize tuition, and tuition rises.
And what did higher education get with its “free federal money”? Not more classroom teachers, but higher salaries, fat research grants, country-club campuses, and armies of new administrators who never see the inside of a classroom.
Alarmingly, the academic preparation of college freshmen has declined as steadily as tuition has risen. According to the Los Angeles Times, 85% of students entering California’s community college system need remedial training in English. For math, the number is 73%.
As academic performance has declined, grades have magically risen. “Grade inflation is rampant. Everybody does it but everybody hates it,” say the profs.
“I still hold out for the real ‘A,’ one Ivy League endowed chairholder says, “but otherwise I, too, have succumbed.”
Younger professors tear their hair: “I can’t give the same lectures I gave seven years ago,” one political scientist at a Catholic university tells the me. “I can’t assign the same books. It’s getting worse every year.”
Yet, with Obama’s “other measures” in mind, deans will hound their faculties to pass everybody—after all, how else will they attain those “high graduation rates”?
And Hey, Bro! Don’t students paying all that money deserve to graduate?
The Forbidden Question
Of course, things will get worse, not better—because everyone is afraid to ask the forbidden questions:
Why do freshmen entering college seem to know less with every passing year? Could it be due to the decline of public schools most of them come from?
And haven’t those very schools been under government control for decades already?
And wouldn’t the dismal performance of those schools suggest that, instead of getting more involved in higher education, the government should get out of it?
To paraphrase Karl Marx, “A good Obama-ite does not ask that question.”
They say it was Einstein who defined “insanity” as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”
Well, Obama apparently wants to spread the insanity around.
Oblivious to the profound damage caused by government intrusions into education “over and over again,” Obama doubles down: he now wants to have federally-funded, federally-controlled “Universal Pre-K” for children everywhere.
“Children Belong to the state, not the family,” said John Swett, the founder of California’s largest teachers union, in 1867.
And it looks like universities will soon belong to the state as well.
The Other Shoe Falls
Of course the government, once having seized control of the funding of higher education, follows the gravity of power and demands control of the content (see “other measures,” above).
How will Catholic higher education respond? Isn’t this government the most overtly anti-Catholic in history?
Well, take Notre Dame, my alma mater.
You’d think they’d done enough for Obama. After all, they gave him a superstar reception, a Catholic imprimatur, and an honorary law degree at their 2009 commencement.
Not to mention that they’d already defied the authority of the Catholic Church and declared themselves independent from Rome, way back in the sixties.
Isn’t that enough to qualify for Obama’s “other measures”? Sure, they’ve received hundreds of millions of federal money over the years—but they have to keep on proving their loyalty, or risk losing it.
Uh-oh.They sued the Administration over Obamacare’s “Contraceptive Mandate.”
And HHS Secretary Sebelius takes that betrayal very seriously.
Notre Dame needed to send a signal that Obama couldn’t miss, clearly pledging their fidelity to his agenda.
They didn’t waste any time.
One day after Obama’s Buffalo speech, Notre Dame announced that it would now admit illegal aliens and give them ample scholarships and other forms of student aid, since illegal aliens are not (yet) eligible for government-backed student loans.
Now there’s a pledge of ideological allegiance for you.
Measure For Measure
In contrast, consider Christendom College in Virginia, the only Catholic college to refuse all government funding.
On the Sunday morning after Obama’s Buffalo speech, the Christendom faculty pledged a different kind of fidelity. At the college’s Inaugural Mass, every professor knelt down before Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde and made this oath of obedience to the Catholic Faith that Notre Dame renounced half a century ago.
On assuming the office of teacher at Christendom College, I promise that I shall always preserve communion with the Catholic Church whether in the words I speak or in the way I act.
With great care and fidelity I shall carry out the responsibilities by which I am bound in relation both to the universal Church and to the particular church in which I am called to exercise my service according to the requirements of the law.
In carrying out my charge I shall preserve the deposit of the Faith in its entirety, hand it on faithfully and make it shine forth. As a result, I shall shun whatsoever teachings that are contrary.
I shall follow and foster the common discipline of the whole Church and shall look after the observance of all ecclesiastical laws, especially those which are contained in the Code of Canon Law.
With Christian obedience I shall associate myself with what is expressed by the holy shepherds as authentic doctors and teachers of the Faith, or established by them as the Church’s rulers. May God help me in this way.
Obama already controls the money. Now he wants to control the content.
The future beckons. Which road will Catholic higher education take—fidelity to government, or fidelity to Christ and his Church?
Only time will tell.
Editor’s note: This column by Dr. Manion is sponsored by the Bellarmine Forum. The photo above was taken on August 22, 2013 at Henninger High School in Syracuse, NY. (Photo credit: AP / Mike Groll)