A Marshall Plan for higher education?

by Grace

In consideration of “the sky-high unemployment rate of recent graduates” and soaring student debt levels fueld by clueless students, Victor Davis Hanson proposes a Marshall Plan for higher education.

… There should be a Marshall Plan on campuses to advise and help students in their second and third years about post-graduate employment. Financial counselors should warn students when their tuition debt reaches unsustainable levels. One would think university counselors early on would mandate consultations with students on job preparation, faculty would mentor students about job opportunities, and in general the employment rates of recent graduates would be well-publicized. What sort of business hikes its charges while lowering the quality of its product? Answer: one that is subsidized by the government.

Whoa!  If expansive government intervention is considered detrimental, then a Marshall Plan seems like overkill as an attempt to help solve today’s problems in higher education.  Although the Marshall Plan may be favorably viewed by most people, a credible counter argument is that its sterling reputation is in fact “a modern myth”.

… there is no convincing evidence that the Marshall Plan caused Europe’s growth. For instance, U.S. assistance never exceeded 5% of the GDP of the recipient nations. As Cowen points out, “The assistance totals were minuscule compared to the growth that occurred in the 1950s.”

Moreover, receipt of aid did not track with economic recovery. France, Germany and Italy began to grow before the onset of the Marshall Plan, while Austria and Greece expanded slowly until near the program’s end. Great Britain, the largest aid recipient, performed most poorly.

Far more important for Europe’s growth was policy reform….

The Marshall Plan may have been a generous act, but that doesn’t mean it spurred Europe’s recovery. The real lesson of the Marshall Plan is that entrepreneurial culture, legal stability and free markets are necessary for economic success. Liberty, not money, is the key to prosperity.

In which case the better solution may be for the government to take a smaller role in helping finance college.  Maybe growing subsidies are actually hurting the low-income students they are intended to help.

It’s not just that many colleges and universities are bleeding taxpayers. The government’s overall strategy to subsidize higher education is failing at its core task: providing less privileged Americans with a real shot at a college degree. Alarmingly, it is burdening low-income students with risks they cannot bear and steering them into low-quality educations.

A Marshall Plan initiative for today’s college woes could easily become a bureaucratic, costly fiasco with unintended consequences that cause more harm than good.


Victor Davis Hanson, “The Campus as California”, PJ Media, December 14, 2014.

3 Comments to “A Marshall Plan for higher education?”

  1. We spend a lot of time on career preparation and counseling. Besides regular advising, and the time many of us spend on career issues in class, we also bring in speakers from industry, and we have a vast and growing career counseling center. Every semester, I bring in a couselor from the career center to my classes to talk about writing resumes and the job search. The counselor always asks the students to come in for a followup. And you know what? They don’t!

    The big problem is that most of the students I see don’t want to think about careers until their spring semester, often towards April or May.

    Eliminating taxpayer financing of universities would make us the only first world nation with a fully privatized higher education system. Exceptionalism hasn’t worked out very well for the American health care system. I am not sure why we would want to go down that path in higher education.


  2. I ask students what they plan to do with their degrees when they are declaring their major, to help them plan courses. Most have not looked that far ahead (2 years). At senior exit interviews, about half the students still have no idea what they want to do next. It is hard to guide students who don’t think about the future at all.

    The soaring debt of public college students is almost entirely due to states cutting the funding of the public schools. The government subsidy kept costs down—privatizing higher education is what is driving the costs way up.


  3. I can completely believe that many if not most students do not plan well for their employment after graduation, even with abundant assistance from their schools. Stupid? I don’t know. Maybe you all have some particular insight.

    I don’t advocate eliminating taxpayer financing of higher education, but the argument that much of this support leads to poor results is a strong one. I would like to see more targeted funding, for example.


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