Secondly, the massive amounts of federal student lending must be tightened. About $110 billion in federal student loans were distributed in 2011. Most colleges see the federal lending system as a money spigot which has rarely been tightened. By banking on the ever increasing number of federal dollars flowing into their coffers, they continually raise prices, knowing that Congress has historically done little to curb the money flow.
Third, many colleges employ a superabundance of personnel who manage campus life and ideology but contribute little to student learning. Tiny Williams College, for instance, employs 71 people on its fundraising staff full time. The University of California system has found money to keep dozens of expensive vice-chancellors for diversity programs, while cutting the number of enrollment spots at many institutions amidst a recession. Higher ed also has many research professors who never teach: Only 20 percent of the faculty at UT-Austin teaches 57 percent of the courses. These research professors often exist merely to bring in more dollars in research grants, thus raising the university's "profile."
Colleges and universities ignore such unproductivity their peril. As the President of Stanford has said, a "tsunami" is coming in the form of online education. Innovations like MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) can deliver course content to more students at fractional costs. This will challenge every aspect of the higher education business. As certificates of completion from MOOCs and other online resources gain more acceptance among employers desperate for skilled workers, there is a good chance that students could flee from the sclerotic, expensive model that has defined higher ed for decades.
In the meantime, college can still be worth it for many students, provided that they have an appetite for academic rigor and an understanding of which schools and majors provide a good return on investment.
—William J. Bennett is the author of "Is College Worth It: A Former United States Secretary of Education and a Liberal Arts Graduate Expose the Broken Promise of Higher Education." He was U.S. secretary of education from 1985 to 1988 and director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy under President George H.W. Bush.
—David Wilezol is co-author of "Is College Worth It" and the associate producer for Bill Bennett's "Morning in America." He is also a 2012 Publius Fellow of the Claremont Institute and currently a graduate student in Greek and Latin at Catholic University in Washington, D.C.