Dear Mr. Berko: My wife and I enjoyed your speech when you were in Syracuse, New York, last October. Your comments forever changed my investment philosophy. But your comment that "students aren't failing their courses as much as American colleges are failing their students" was confusing. Please explain this to me. — PS, Solvay, N.Y.
Dear PS: That was not part of my prepared remarks but rather a response to a question from someone in the audience about whether his son should join the armed forces and then enter college or go straight to college from high school.
Frankly, too many American educational institutions have become sports colleges — places where football and basketball are more important than scholarship. To help support their costly sports programs, many colleges accept students who are sex offenders, have criminal records, have room temperature IQs and have severe learning deficits. And if these students don't have the tuition, many schools will help them borrow the money.
In 41 states, the highest-paid public employees are college basketball and football coaches. Of the 1,083 programs in the top tier of college sports competition, only 20 are profitable, according to 2014 findings of the NCAA. Only two sports are profitable at these schools; basketball programs netted a median profit of $340,000, and football programs netted slightly more than $3 million.
To pay for their sports teams, universities have cut faculty and staff members, eliminated courses, and canceled degree programs. For instance, in 2015, when the University of Akron lost a huge bundle, UA cut 215 jobs and $40 million from its budget. Utah State University spent $25 million on its sports programs in 2014, earning $11 million from fees and attendance. The remaining $14 million came from student tuition, much of which derived from student loans. The University of Cincinnati froze its tuition in 2015 but borrowed nearly $80 million to expand its football stadium. I estimate that 30 percent of a student's tuition costs are dedicated to UC's athletics.
Stupid is as stupid does, and that kind of stupidity also infects the students of these schools. Athletic events have become egregious examples of misguided college sports programs, the losses from which have cumulatively morphed into billions of dollars. The costs of these programs are paid by the students, many of whom collectively borrowed over $1.4 trillion to attend classes at their colleges.
This greatly expanding student debt that's being used to cover money-losing football and basketball programs at NCAA schools has become so huge that it can't be repaid. Basically, college sports programs are cleverly stealing your children's education money. Universities are paying for fancy sports facilities that few students use and for professors who don't teach. So it's little wonder that many students have seen a rapid increase in those grubby online courses for math, history, psychology, English et al. And it's little wonder that those grubby courses produce grubby results. Society will end up with grubby professionals whose knowledge, capabilities and grubby skills fall far short of what we consider adequate today. Universities are taking in more and more dollars, not to become better but to become bigger so they can attract more (and less qualified) consumers and pay for their rising costs. As a result, we've been experiencing a phenomenon called the dumbing down of America. This dumbing down has ridiculed the value of most college diplomas, which are now usually worth somewhere between bupkis and a few grand in the real world. Today employers are asking not where you attended school but rather, "What can you do for me?"
Unlike most foreign universities, where there tends to be tough competition for acceptance, most American colleges will accept you even if you are unable to read and can't make correct change for a dollar. And if you're a good athlete — even one with a police record — you don't need a decent IQ to matriculate. All the above makes me wonder whether Earth has become the insane asylum for the universe.
Please address your financial questions to Malcolm Berko, P.O. Box 8303, Largo, FL 33775, or email him at [email protected] To find out more about Malcolm Berko and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.