While I was out shopping for dinner, the comments section exploded with a series of very interesting and knowledgeable responses to my defense of Bernie’s call for free public higher education. My thanks to all of you. Rather self-interestedly, I take it as a tribute to this blog that its readership is so classy. J Let me try briefly to add a few responses.
First of all, I cannot figure out where I got my original income figures, but they are totally wrong. S. Wallerstein’s are correct. My point remains, concerning the relative wealth of America and France. Sorry about that.
Second, it is quite true that the federal structure of the United States and the state rather than federal responsibility for education makes the situation here much more complicated. But the general principle that elementary and secondary education should be universal and free has gained acceptance in our system, and so could the principle that tertiary education should be free. Bernie is not, so far as I can see, supposing that such a principle can be implemented by the waving of a wand, and certainly not by an Executive order. He is trying, for the first time, to make this principle part of the core commitment of one of the two major political parties. Clinton is not prepared to sign on to that principle. If she were, a useful conversation could be initiated in the Democratic Party about how to implement it.
Third, David Palmeter is quite correct about the extraordinary inflation in tuition costs. When I entered Harvard in 1950, tuition was $600 a year [I recall it as $400, but the distinguished logician and philosopher Charles Parsons, my classmate, graduate apartment mate, Columbia colleague, and long-time friend, recalls it as $600, and I learned long ago that in all such matters Charles is always correct.] That is $5900 in 2016 dollars. Tuition this year at Harvard is $57,200, almost ten times the inflation rate!!! Why do they charge so much? Because they can. Then they use their enormous endowment to underwrite grants to many of their students. It would take me a long time to begin to explain the explosion in costs, but one thing is for sure: it is not an explosion of faculty salaries.
Fourth, there are all sorts of ways in which the French higher educational system is inferior to the American, setting to one side the so-called grandes écoles, and I am actually a big fan of the American system, though not of its cost. To cite just one among many of its virtues, in America it is quite possible for a high school graduate to take some of the academic courses at a local Community College, then transfer those credits to a branch of the state four year college system, eventually graduate and gain admission to a post-graduate program at a campus of the state university system, and thus climb the ladder educationally. There are many educational systems around the world in which that sort of portability of credits and steady rise is just impossible.
Once again, thank you all for a valuable discussion.