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Cal Thomas refutes his own truism
May 14, 2012 - Mike Maneval
In a Monday column, pundit Cal Thomas begins with what he acknowledges is a truism: "Whenever the federal government steps in, costs usually rise and efficiency declines." Amusingly, just about everything Thomas writes from that point on refutes his chosen truism.
Thomas wants to apply this truism to education, and contrasts the value of some colleges with others. But then, Thomas goes on to observe where the decline in schools' reputations has been most pronounced, and where the credibility of colleges and universities remains strong, in terms of practical benefit.
The most private schools, the colleges and universities most independent from federal and state involvement, Thomas reports, are not the most favored by U.S. employers when filling entry-level jobs. A Wall Street Journal study Thomas cites instead demonstrates "big state universities" are favored by companies.
The top three "big state universities" named in the research as targeted by job recruiters were Penn State, Texas A&M, and the University of Illinois. Nineteen of the top 25 schools identified by the Wall Street Journal were public or semi-public institutions, all receiving appropriations from their respective state governments annually. Fourteen of these public or semi-public schools - including Penn State and the rest of the top three - were Morrill Land Grant schools, aided by federal legislation signed by President Abraham Lincoln to give agricultural colleges federal property to defray the expenses of expanding or establishing - what some then might have called big-government handouts encroaching on local responsibilities.
One of the few private schools to make the list - and the only Ivy League school - was Cornell, which also took federal land-grant aid under a restructured arrangement for the Morrill Act. And the land-grant schools have continued to receive federal funding to develop programs, many of them success stories in their own right.
"This sounds like a win-win-win," Thomas writes, not of the Morrill Act or subsequent laws specifically. "Attend a far less expensive state school and save money; avoid crushing debt that will take decades to repay; and reduce the burden on taxpayers."
While Thomas may be forgetting taxpayers provide money to the "less expensive state school" directly, funding Thomas' fellow critics of government scope are attempting to reduce, the reality remains clear: The federal and state governments "stepping in" created a tier of more affordable schools whose reputations we're seeing outpace those of the more costly, more independent private institutions.
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