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Open Letter to President-Elect Obama from a University President


Dear Mr. President-Elect:

I recently read an open letter to you and your new Administration published in the New York Times and circulated over the Internet. Apparently, this two-page spread was paid for by Carnegie Corporation of New York. Thirty-six institutions of higher learning and related organizations put their names on the statement. As I read the statement I saw many things I agreed with, but one thing did not ring true in my somewhat knowledgeable opinion. The letter signers - presidents, chancellors and trustees - are evidently convinced that the solution to America’s increasingly ineffective and too expensive higher education system is for the government to make “a substantial investment…in building essential classrooms…and much-needed construction projects.” They seem to think that money solves all problems, a theme that was echoed by an October 2008 report titled The Iron Triangle: College Presidents Talk about Costs, Access and Quality. The presidents’ solution as evidenced in this report is “give us more money.”

It does not make sense that the government should devote billions of dollars in new money to build campus facilities while the fastest growing segment of college students is composed of those enrolling in online courses and degree programs. Former lifelong educator and business guru Peter Drucker, quoted in Forbes several years ago, said “Today’s buildings [college facilities] are hopelessly unsuited and totally unneeded.” He further commented, “colleges won’t survive as residential institutions.” Drucker predicted the Internet would change the way students learned, and the evidence continues to build that Drucker was right.

In my opinion, the federal government should stay away from funneling billions into an out of date system. Sure, it would help the construction industry, but it would also perpetuate the decades-old ivory tower thinking of academia. If any investment or incentive is to favor education it might be best made in the private sector.

I suggest, Mr. President-Elect, you and the key members of your administration re-read Milton Freidman. He does such a good job explaining the benefits of a private, incentivized educational system. I do not need to restate his position.

As I look around this great country of ours at all the best universities I notice something. A majority of the best universities are private.

As I look around this country of ours at all the best high schools I notice something. A majority of the best high schools are private – and many are charter schools.

As I look around this county or ours at all the best elementary and middle schools I notice something. A majority of the best elementary and middle schools are private – and many are charter schools

Where did you, Mr. President-Elect, go to school? Yes, a private school

Where do your children, Mr. President-Elect, go to school? Yes, a private school

The challenge of adequately educating Americans can be solved best by the free market. The government need not subsidize a public educational system that is in decline. Create laws that support free market education. Push for more charter schools. Provide subsidies to those in society that are in real need and you will provide access to the class of Americans who are being underserved – minority groups. Push ahead with your tax proposal. Let individual families use tax relief to determine how best to educate their children and themselves.

No more subsidies for the public administrators whose answer to every problem is “Give me more money.” Let’s put the power in the hands of the market – let’s put the power in the hands of Americans, not educators still stuck in the 1900s.

I look forward to your Presidency – and unlike other college presidents, I’m here to help, here to serve – I’m not here to beg for a handout.

Let’s “take education anywhere” – online, on iPods, in homes and at parks, and help build America together!

Don Kassner
Andrew Jackson University



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