Self-inflicted Problems of Higher Education

Self-inflicted Problems of Higher Education: Part 5

By Ron Knecht – 18December2020

In previous columns, I discussed the long-term rapidly rising in-state charges at U.S. public colleges and universities.  These costs have been driven by massive administrative headcount bloat, emphasis on research over teaching, and excessive compensation for both tenured faculty and administrators (slightly offset by underpaid teaching assistants and adjunct faculty).

Enabled or even propelled greatly by federally sanctioned student loans, costs have risen much faster than students and families’ ability to pay.  When students finish college, with or without a degree, many of them and their parents have crushing student-loan burdens and have received often dubious value for their time and money.  Those without a degree may or may not have gained knowledge and skills they need, but employers will usually under-compensate them.

As a Nevada regent for eight years, I observed all these phenomena in our system.

A key problem of public higher education is the same as for K-12 public education and all the public sector: The enterprises are usually run for benefit of the employees, not for benefit of students, other clientele, taxpayers and families paying the bills, nor for the public interest.

Like communications, railroads, airlines and other industries in the past, higher ed has become a cartel protected by government from effective competition.  It thus fails to experience necessary productivity growth and business-model innovation.  Such cartels and public agencies have essentially captive clientele, and for that reason have become sclerotic and inwardly focused.

So, they are caught off guard when innovative business models, often using new technology, disrupt the incumbents and provide consumers by-pass opportunities.  The Covid-19 pandemic and associated shutdowns, coupled with modern electronic communications and information systems, have suddenly disrupted higher ed and shown students and families bypass options, not customer oriented.

The internet and many distance-learning technologies are often less expensive than classroom delivery and in many cases as effective or more for learning.  With entrepreneurs learning how to deliver one-to-many and network-based instruction and content with these technologies, the costs of brick-and-mortar campuses, administrative excess, subsidized research and bloated compensation are jeopardized.

Students can avoid housing and board costs by not living on campus.  As one who has benefitted extensively from higher education, I value greatly the on-campus experiences.  But not everyone gets the same value from them.  And with home delivery methods, they can often get by without student loans.

Many portions of standardized four-year degree programs deliver little value to students but provide income streams for faculty and administrators.  Associate and baccalaureate models have dominated nearly every field in modern colleges.  However, many students are better served by limited-scope proficiency certificates, apprenticeships, technical training, etc.

The fraction of high school graduates going on to higher ed has increased over time because these other options were not generally available.  Now that they are, we have too many students in colleges and universities.  This contributes to lowering of standards and to longer time taken to earn first degrees.

Also, faculty and administrators have indulged distribution requirements and weak academic programs in critical theory, identity studies, political activism and vapid sophistry: social justice, diversity, inclusion, equity, privilege, intersectionality, woke-ism, coercive collectivism and radical environmentalism.

Entrepreneurs have managed even to make profits by offering the things students need and want without bundling them with the distribution and weak academic dreck they don’t want or need.

What to do?

Some institutions should innovate and diversify with offerings and methods that match the disruptors.  With economies of scope and scale due to their current offerings, they may often be able to effectively compete in this manner.

Where they cannot compete directly with disruptors, they should retrench their current offerings to those that disruptors can’t match.  Beginning social sciences, humanities, math and science can often be taught effectively on line if students have opportunities to ask questions in interactive sessions.  But colleges have real advantages in engineering and architectural design, performance in arts, advanced projects, etc.

Above all, they should be brutal on cutting costs and insisting on productivity gains, even at the expense of some internal constituencies.  And stop depending on growth, which won’t materialize.  Finally, don’t depend on increasing real budgets.  Or bleating bromides and tired old mantras to defend the status quo.

Ron Knecht, MS, JD & PE(CA), has serv3ed Nevadans as state controller, a higher education regent, economist, college teacher and legislator.  Contact him at


How Electors Get Chosen in Nevada: A Warning

By Michael Jack, December 18, 2020

In a recent Party meeting, I posed the question, “Who elects the President of the United States?” The answers were almost as diverse as the suggestions made by delegates at the Constitutional Convention in the summer of 1787 when debating the subject. At our recent meeting, some said the people, some the legislature, others said electors, all of which demonstrated our need for further education.

The answer ultimately decided upon by the Founding Fathers is enshrined in Article II, Section 1, clause 2 of the Constitution of the United States, part of which is stated below:

Electors. Each state shall appoint, in such manner as the legislature thereof may direct, a number of electors, equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives to which the state may be entitled in the Congress; but no Senator or Representative, or person holding an office of trust or profit under the United States, shall be appointed an elector.”

The Founding Fathers delegated the power to the state legislatures in selecting electors. They can establish that process any way they choose.

In Nevada, the process of selecting electors and their alternates is outlined in the Nevada Revised Statues (NRS), Chapter 298, also known as The Uniform Faithful Presidential Electors Act. It canonizes the procedures for conducting the vote for both President and Vice President, and other matters associated with that process. A summary for selecting electors and alternates follows:

  • Each of the two major political parties shall nominate the legal number of electors and alternates during their respective conventions held in a Presidential Election year.
  • Minor parties and independent candidates operate under a separate set of rules, also outlined in NRS 298.
  • Each nominee and alternate must sign a pledge which reads as follows:

“If selected for the position of presidential elector, I agree to serve as such and to vote only for the nominees of President and Vice President of the political party or the independent candidates who received the highest number of votes in this State at the general election.”

  • This pledge effectively makes Nevada a winner-take-all state.
  • A list of all nominated electors and alternates is then sent to the Nevada Secretary of State who generates a certificate of ascertainment containing the list of electors and alternates and forwards it to the Archivist of the United States. If there are any changes to the list, an amended certificate of ascertainment is sent to the Archivist of the United States.
  • On the date designated by Congress, all the electors across the country gather to cast their ballots for President and Vice President. Each Secretary of State calls the meeting to order and provides two ballots to each elector, one for President and one for Vice President. Each elector then casts their vote, signs, and prints their name on each ballot and returns it to the Secretary of State. In Nevada, if an elector casts any ballot contrary to the pledge they signed, the Secretary of State can refuse to accept it and replace the elector with an alternate. The ballots are then forwarded, ultimately to the President of the Senate, to be opened and counted at the appointed time and date in a joint session of Congress.

Do you see the potential for things to go awry?

The “What If” game.

You have seen how the system is supposed to work; now let us look at a scenario where things could go bad really fast. Here is what we know:

  • The Constitution has delegated selection of the electors to the legislature.
  • The current Governor of Nevada, a left-leaning bureaucrat, has demonstrated that he cares more for party politics than what is best for Nevada. He amply displayed this willingness by convening the State Legislature weeks before early voting started and significantly changing the election rules. The result has been a disaster for the State of Nevada.

Here are a few “What Ifs.”

What if, after voter fraud investigations in Nevada and possibly a recount, President Trump takes the lead in the popular vote?

Then, what if the Governor calls a special session of the legislature to address the selection of Electors?

What if the legislature, under the guise of making the elector selection process more democratic, decides to gut major sections of NRS 298, as they have already done in AB4 in previous special sessions?

What if the legislature passed new legislation providing for electors to be nominated by the full body of the legislature and a simple majority vote on each nominee and alternate, eliminating any nominating by major parties, minor parties, or independents?

What if that legislation removed the Secretary of State from participating in this process at all and reassigned it to a political functionary within the legislative staff?

What if the Governor signed it into law?

What if the electors and alternates selected by the legislature were all Democrats favoring Biden?

This scenario does not violate the Constitution, nor would it be contrary to Nevada Law (since the law was legally changed). So, even though the popular vote favors the President, Nevada would still be “blue” as far as the electoral college was concerned.

This shows that legislative races are extremely important, possibly even more important than some federal races. They tend to have a more direct impact on our everyday lives and our political future. For example, the next sitting legislature will be redrawing political boundaries based upon the census taken this year. Without at least parity in the legislature, it is going to be a tough battle just trying to preserve some of our traditional Republican strongholds.

County Republican parties need to be laser-focused on state legislative and other down-ballot races, which are now being used by the Democrats as a training ground for future rising stars within their party. The State Republican Party should be encouraging and supporting down-ballot races far beyond their current efforts.

The leadership team of the Washoe County Republican Party (“WCRP”) has demonstrated how vision, the appropriate application of resources and individual talents, and lots of hard work can lead to success. Over the past two cycles the WCRP, in cooperative partnerships with campaigns, has helped to move the needle for conservative candidates.

We need to expand our brand, help others outside our party understand our guiding principles, and persuade them that having a strong Republican (conservative) presence will lead to better governing in our state.

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