These were among the latest recommendations of Barack and Michelle Obama in their ongoing effort to bring social justice to our benighted land. How, they essentially ask, can everyone be made equal if some are allowed to languish without a college degree?
With respect to financial equality, we know that they have sought to tax the rich so as to transfer their wealth to the poor. With respect to medical care, they have also sought to strip the wealthy of their Cadillac insurance plans so as to offer Obamacare to those without insurance.
But what about higher education? Do they plan to relieve the best educated of their brains and motivation so as to implant these in the have-nots? Do they honestly believe either that everyone starts with the same mental and emotional endowments or that they can transfer these just as they have attempted to do with other resources?
Actually that seems not to be their plan. The real objective appears to be to tear down higher education so that no one can derive an unfair advantage from acquiring more knowledge than others. If they can just make sure that everyone is equally dumb, unfairness will be banished from the earth.
If this sounds like hyperbole, it is not. It is a straightforward extrapolation from what the Obamas have endorsed for educational reform. They tell us that there are not enough poor children attending college; hence they wish to increase their numbers, while providing the appropriate support.
To hear the Obamas, one would never imagine that scholarships and student loans abound. If they are taken seriously, one might assume that few colleges currently offer remedial programs to unprepared entrants. Nor would one suppose that affirmative action is deeply entrenched at our best schools.
Yet all of these things are in place. What is more, they have not accomplished the mission they were intended to achieve. While virtually any unprepared student can find a school willing to admit him or her, ensuring graduation is another matter. The dropout rates are phenomenal.
But liberals like the Obamas have a solution. Mandate that colleges must graduate higher percentages of their students. And oh yes, also provide them with more money, more remediation and greater encouragement.
The fact is that not only don’t these policies work; they never can. As long as abilities and effort are unequally distributed (as they are), the only way to guarantee that everyone who enters college obtains a credential is to make college degrees worthless.
If everyone is required to learn as much as everyone else, the only method of ensuring this is to arrange things so that everyone learns as little as possible. Complete intellectual equality can only be attained by insisting on universal mediocrity. After all, the dumb and lazy cannot even rise to be average.
This, to be blunt, is a prescription for destroying our colleges and universities. Whatever they have been, once they are flooded with the students the Obamas want to help, they will no longer be colleges. They may not even be able to teach as much as our high schools once did.
The president and his wife assure us that quality will be maintained. But these are the same people who told us we could keep our doctors and health plans. They are happy talk specialists who live in a world where lollypops grow on trees and chocolate milk gurgles in the streams.
Unfortunately, we do not live in the same universe. For us, if higher education is to be higher, it cannot be for everyone — only those able to benefit from it.
Melvyn L. Fein Ph.D. is professor of sociology at Kennesaw State University.