I was recently reading a blog post by a conservative commentator talking about using on line resources and on-line course to “fix” the “problems” with American higher education. Something struck me about this. There is no doubt that there are some problems facing the American higher education system, the main one being price, and certainly the availability of on line courses could provide greater access at lower cost. But the American higher education system is the best in the world. In fact it is the envy of the world. China and Saudi Arabia are trying to build new universities from scratch to mimic American universities. Students from around the world flock to the United States to attend our colleges and universities. And according to the Shanghai “Academic Ranking of World Universities” the vast majority of the top universities in the world are in the United States.
One could look at this and say that the market has spoken. The worldwide market for education has said that the higher education system in the United States is the best in the world. Despite this many conservatives hate it, and want to change it. On the state level many conservative state legislators are trying to strip funding from public colleges and universities. And at least two conservative governors, Rick Perry of Texas and Bob McDonnell have proposed plans to restructure state schools that most academics say will erode the quality of state universities.
So the United States has the best higher education system in the world, and conservatives want to change it.
Compare that with the American health care system. It is a system fraught with problems. Millions are uninsured and lack access to adequate health care services. They do have access to emergency health care services, but this drives up the cost of health care for everyone else. The cost of health care is rising far faster than the rate of inflation. The United States spends more per capita on health care than any other nation, yet we have a poor infant mortality rate and a relatively low life expectancy, particularly for a developed country. The cost of health care is a drain on the economy, and a competitive disadvantage for American businesses.
Despite these problems, conservatives oppose changing the system.
I’m baffled. Conservatives want to change the best system in the world, but don’t want to change a deeply flawed system. Weird.