Private Universities? Ha!

Column by tzo.

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The State has always needed an opinion-molding class to convince the masses that the institution of government is necessary, proper, and vital in its organization and delivery of essential public services that could not otherwise be provided.
In exchange for the creation and dissemination of such ideological propaganda, the apologist class receives certain benefits and privileges in return from the State.
In the past, the alliance between Church and State typified this power-wielding relationship, with the priestly class using its religious influence to explain to the masses why the government was exempt from certain rules of conduct forbidden to everyone else.
Taxation is not theft, and war is not murder: God says so.
In modern society, religious institutions are no longer as influential as they were in the past, as science has widely displaced religion. Today, the scholarly experts, the intellectual class, receives the greatest respect from the masses. The old Church and State alliance has been replaced with the fusion of School and State. If the people respect and obey the intellectual class, then the government must control and ally itself with this indispensable public relations machine.
So we should not be surprised to discover that the State has seized a monopoly on education in this country (as is the case in most countries). The school has replaced the church as the temple of mass indoctrination. Make the people believe in education, then educate them according to certain specifications, then watch them follow the lead of the expert intellectuals.
Taxation is not theft, and war is not murder: Science says so.
Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.
Now a popular counter to this argument is to point out that the United States has an extensive network of private universities that are independent of government and its influence. We produce a steady stream of government-independent intellectuals that can contribute to a free market of ideas in our society, contributions that are not necessarily what the State wishes to be broadcast.
The common assumption that private universities receive the bulk of their financing through endowments and other private means simply is not true. The examination of a typical private university financial report reveals that most receive a large percentage of their funding through public channels. Over 20 years ago, Murray Rothbard noted that:
"... it is almost impossible to find a university that is not owned, economically if not legally, by the government. If one’s criterion of government ownership is the receipt of over 50% of one's income from the government, then there are virtually no universities, and only one or two small colleges, that can be called "private." During the riots of the late 1960's, students at Columbia discovered that far more than 50% of the income of that allegedly "private" university came from the government."
Aside from the direct and obvious funding to be found in financial reports, consider that the gifts that build private university endowments enjoy tax exemptions, as does private university property. Private research universities receive federal grants and contracts, a direct taxpayer subsidy, and private universities in many states receive a per-student subsidy for every in-state student they enroll, another public subsidy. 
The fact of the matter is that most private universities depend on tuition as their main source of income. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of students tap into federal government financial aid to help pay tuition and fees, for yet another rather large public subsidy. 
No, private universities are not financially independent from government, but rather the opposite. But that's not even the worst part of it.
Let's let the federal government define accreditation. This is from the website:
"Accreditation in the United States is a voluntary, nongovernmental process, in which an institution and its programs are evaluated against standards for measuring quality."
OK. So far it sounds like a UL-type of independent market rating system. Nothing wrong with that. Then it continues:
"The Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education recognizes select accrediting agencies as reliable authorities regarding the quality of education or training offered by the institutions or programs they accredit. Accreditation by a recognized accrediting agency is part of the requirements for institutions to participate in federal student aid programs."
Aha. If a university is not accredited by an organization that the federal government deems reliable, then that university is ineligible to participate in federal student aid programs. Keep in mind that institutions of higher education, especially the more expensive private institutions, depend heavily upon federal student aid programs for their existence.
"Accrediting agencies recognized by the Secretary meet certain criteria, the institutions accredited by those agencies meet standards that address the quality of an institution and its programs."
So universities do not need to meet government standards in order to exist, but rather need to meet standards set by an "independent" agency that must have its standards approved by the government. See the difference?
But of course, it may be countered, a private university can always set up shop and keep itself independent from federal student aid programs and not worry about accreditation. They can then teach whatever curricula they believe they can sell on the free market.
"... earning a degree from an unaccredited institution may create problems for students. Some employers, institutions, and licensing boards only recognize degrees earned from institutions accredited by an accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education."—
So, big deal. If a student decides to spend his money in pursuit of a degree from an unaccredited university then he is certainly free to do so, no matter what type of practical difficulties he may encounter later when trying to use that degree to obtain employment, right?
Again: Ha!
"In some states, it can be illegal to use a degree from an institution that is not accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting agency, unless approved by the state licensing agency."—
For example, in Texas:
"Texas law requires colleges and universities operating in Texas to be approved by the Coordinating Board or accredited by an accrediting association recognized by the Board."
They then list almost 400 institutions whose degrees are illegal to use in Texas.
"The Texas Penal Code (Section 32.52) prohibits the use of fraudulent or substandard degrees" in a written or oral advertisement or other promotion of a business; or with the intent to: obtain employment; obtain a license or certificate to practice a trade, profession, or occupation; obtain a promotion, a compensation or other benefit, or an increase in compensation or other benefit, in employment or in the practice of a trade, profession, or occupation; obtain admission to an educational program in this state; or gain a position in government with authority over another person, regardless of whether the actor receives compensation for the position." Violation of this law is a Class B misdemeanor."
And so the government maintains its monopoly over the institutions of higher learning by enforcing standards through licensing requirements. Operating or receiving a degree from an unlicensed university is asking to have violence directed against you.
I cannot leave the subject of accreditation just yet without noting the irony involved. Accreditation is a means of protecting the student from evil fly-by-night higher education predators that may try to separate the unwary consumer from his money in exchange for an inferior or nonexistent education product. Now consider the argument closely: The most highly educated and intelligent segment of society is too stupid to be able to recognize charlatans and swindlers and needs the government to nanny them. And just who neglected to teach these naifs such basic survival skills in their first twelve years of the educational process?
I guess part of being an optimally-educated student in this country does not include any training in looking out for oneself. That responsibility must remain within the government's purview. The feckless students are merely inept sheep who cannot possibly be trained to look out for themselves, so the government educators must remain at their side as wise and benevolent guardians even as the students become adults.
Same As It Ever Was
Academic freedom is a sham: Students must be taught what the government deems to be proper (yes, exceptions can be found, but they are very few and far between). And what is the cost of such uniformity? Well, the educated learn of the inevitability of the indispensable government organization. They learn of the importance of central banking and Keynesian economics. They learn that ethics is a subjective field of study. They learn that democracy is the pinnacle of human social achievement. And so on.
These are all truisms, and shall not be questioned. Authority has spoken. You, the educated, shall absorb the appropriate facts and regurgitate them on command.
Remember when authority insisted the Earth was flat?
Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.
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tzo's picture
Columnist tzo
Columns on STR: 64

tzo now lives in your head.


GregL's picture

Another great article by tzo. Not much I didn't already know but he expresses it so clearly.

Suverans2's picture

Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr

Well done, tzo, well done.

B.R. Merrick's picture

Thank you for pointing out how entrenched our favored system of coercion has become. All of these rules and regulations, of course, have also served to artificially increase the price of education. That could be another article entirely.

However, I would like to see an article explaining the following sentence:

"They learn that ethics is a subjective field of study."

Are ethics objective, or subject to whether an individual desires life or death?

Suverans2's picture Written guessed it...tzo.

tzo's picture

If an individual truly desires death, then he will kill himself. As long as he continues to live, however, he is choosing life. By doing so, he must respect the fact that there is an ethical standard for human interaction that must be respected if the human race is to successfully continue on.

As much as a person lives (chooses life) and yet supports unethical behavior, is the extent to which he is a defective human being (and we all are to some extent).

"Humans respond to incentives" is a great summary of human behavior. When coercion becomes integrated and accepted in society, and there are advantages to participating in the coercion, and the coercion can be in some way justified (however thinly and cheaply), then unethical behavior increases to the detriment of human society.

Government seems to be an engine of irreversible and increasing coercion, guaranteeing an eventual breakdown of society and/or government. People starve, kill each other in civil wars, kill furriners in international wars, get imprisoned, and all kinds of things that a society is supposed to prevent.

Society is built in order for individuals to be able to acquire what they could not acquire acting alone, a positive intention. When large portions of society suffer, then it is a fail, even if it continues to limp along.

And the link posted by Suverans2 also addresses your question, I believe.

D. Saul Weiner's picture


Excellent work. I have always wanted to learn just how this scam of accreditation works. Of course the government funding grants also do wonders for ensuring that "quality" research takes place at our higher places of learning.

My question is in regard to one of your comments: "Government seems to be an engine of irreversible and increasing coercion, guaranteeing an eventual breakdown of society and/or government. People starve, kill each other in civil wars, kill furriners in international wars, get imprisoned, and all kinds of things that a society is supposed to prevent." Now this strikes me as a very accurate depiction of U.S. history. Yet I also know that there have been some recent examples of blessed retrenchment in state power. There was a recent article at the Reason blog on such instances, for Canada and New Zealand. So it seems as though it is sometimes possible to gain at least a temporary reprieve from the destruction. I have not seen any evidence that the U.S. state is capable of such a thing, at least not at this point in time. One commenter at the Hit and Run blog attributed this to the structure of our system; it is simply impossible to make these types of changes with all of the players involved, versus a parliamentary system. What do you think?

Mind you, I would much rather see a market anarchy develop, but I would prefer to see retrenchment compared to the escalation in tyranny that we see each day.

Suverans2's picture

"When coercion becomes integrated and accepted in society, and there are advantages to participating in the coercion, and the coercion can be in some way justified (however thinly and cheaply), then unethical behavior increases to the detriment of human society." ~ tzo

Being a voting member of a group whose modus operandi[1] is coercion is to be a "participating"[2] accomplice to the coercion.

Being a non-voting member of a group whose modus operandi is coercion is to be a participatory[3] accomplice to the coercion.

Which is why Henry said: “How does it become a man to behave towards the American government today? I answer, that he cannot without disgrace be associated[4] with it."

[1] "...a method of procedure; especially : a distinct pattern or method of operation..."
[2] participating - taking part in an activity; "an active member of the [country] club"; "he was politically active"
[3] participatory ▸ adjective: affording the opportunity for individual participation ("Participatory democracy")
[4] ASSO'CIATED, pp. United in company or in interest; joined

undeadvictim's picture

"Accreditation is a means of protecting the student from evil fly-by-night higher education predators that may try to separate the unwary consumer from his money in exchange for an inferior or nonexistent education product."

If you've spent any time in college courses then you know this completely false. My fellow students and I spent most of our time in college bemoaning the ridiculousness of our classes, the seeming stupidity of our professors, and especially the incomprehensible $300 textbooks. And this was an accredited institution. Accreditation FAIL and quite miserably at that. If they were supposed to be protecting us from "substandard" education by charlatans, then they missed the mark completely. The state school across town was even worse.

The degree is the bullshit tolerance test, but for the day to day employers want hands on, on the job experience.

Great article!