Safe spaces, critical race theory, and defunding of the campus police. These are just three pillars of the U.S. college experience in 2021.
Now, the Biden administration is facing questions over its push to add subsidization of higher education to that list – amid a new study claiming undergraduate enrollment is down from last spring and rising cries from experts about campuses becoming "Democratic-voter breeding grounds."
"It’s clear that universities have taken a sharp left turn the last few years. I don’t think anyone can disagree with that," said Tomas Philipson, former acting chair of the Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) in the Trump administration in an exclusive interview with FOX Business.
According to experts such as Philipson, the reason for this leftward turn is an indoctrination into Democratic politics through a reliance on progressive policies such as subsidies.
"My sense is that public education or public subsidies of student loans – which I think is very similar in terms of the financial impact – are just a way to pay for future voters liking big government. And that’s essentially what is [happening] on our college campuses," continued Philipson, who is a professor at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy.
"[The Biden administration] is pushing in this direction, presumably because they know that if kids go to school, they’re more likely to vote Democratic," the former George W. Bush administration economic adviser remarked.
Indeed, President Biden is a proponent of student loan forgiveness, canceling $500 million in debt Monday. He also discussed the matter at a November press conference in Wilmington, Del., shortly after his election win when asked about his plans to confront the matter.
"It does figure in my plan I've laid out in detail," Biden said. "For example, the legislation passed by the Democratic House calls for immediate $10,000 forgiveness of student loans. It’s holding people up. They’re in real trouble. They’re having to make choices between paying their student loan and paying their rent. Those kind of decisions. It should be done immediately."
Some progressives however, believe Biden doesn’t go far enough on the issue and question what the holdup is.
"I don't think that that's enough," Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. said at a virtual town hall event of the $10,000 figure pushed by Biden.
"We need to push him. I believe in full student loan debt cancellation. But we have to push him to at the bare minimum a floor of $50,000 that Sen. [Elizabeth] Warren and Sen. [Chuck] Schumer have also advanced," the New York lawmaker commented.
This push concerns Philipson, who studied the issue while on the CEA in the Trump administration. His team found that free public higher education abroad often delivered worse rates of return than more expensive, but privately financed U.S. education.
"It seems a little puzzling: how can something free have a lower rate of return? But the thing many people miss is that the highest cost of an education is not your tuition; the highest cost is many times that you don’t earn money while you’re sitting in the classroom," the former Becker Friedman director at the University of Chicago said.
"We compared Nordic countries – which many have ‘free’ (tax financed) education – with U.S. education. The U.S. return is much higher – sometimes five times higher than in the Nordic countries – meaning the education actually leads to increased earnings, which it doesn’t as much in Nordic countries," he said.
The battles in higher education have only gotten more contentious with conservatives accusing university administrations and educators of a liberal bias – especially when it comes to college subsidies.
"Colleges have become indoctrination centers for the Left," said Kara Zupkus, national spokeswoman for Young America’s Foundation (YAF), which features prominently on many U.S. college campuses but has complained of a muzzling by higher-ups in recent years. "There has been a dramatic shift in the last decade toward coddling students, and preventing them from hearing a different viewpoint. These students essentially run the university, forcing administrators to cave to their demands or be labeled a 'racist, sexist, bigot.’"
Zupkus concurred with Philipson that student loan forgiveness is inherently flawed.
"A policy like student loan forgiveness may sound appealing on its face to a college student, but the consequences for our country are dire," she said. "Many students on campus are simply taught what to think, rather than how to think – and it leads to a lack of critical thinking skills. Professors have no issue pushing their agendas in class, attempting to ostracize anyone who dares to disagree."