The year was 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren’t only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.
In his 1961 short story “Harrison Bergeron,” author Kurt Vonnegut mused about a future in which equality of outcomes is not only required, but enforced. Equity was achieved by “handicapping” the talents of individuals in various absurd ways. In an eerie echo to Vonnegut, higher education in the U.S. is trending in this direction.
Halfway to 2081, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) policies (especially the equity component) are resulting in a gradual “handicapping” of degrees, programs, and courses. Examples include dilution of the mathematics curriculum, and adulteration of history and literature. This trend is accompanied by increasing indoctrination—what to think, not how to think—and the curtailment of speech on campus.
The consumer of undergraduate education enjoys a wide selection of DEI-influenced institutions, but a dwindling supply of alternatives. I propose that one important pathway to a restoration of “school choice” in higher education is to establish and successfully operate new colleges that prioritize merit over equity. DEI’s current dominance has supplanted many merit-based programs and policies, and weakened other traditional priorities (e.g., academic freedom and equality of opportunity), leaving a gap in the marketplace–an underserved market segment comprising academics, parents, students, and donors seeking a “non-DEI” education. This creates an opportunity for educational entrepreneurs to launch new institutions that serve this abandoned market segment.
What Business Are We In?
College is a marketplace in which participants (students) purchase one or more options for their future success. For students whose primary motivation is economic (career acceleration), the value proposition of undergraduate education can be described as the offering of one or more options to enter a chosen career at an advanced level, i.e., a higher level than one would have otherwise entered the workplace. Do DEI-focused colleges in the U.S. deliver such options? In many cases, yes, but the current emphasis on DEI in general, and its “equity” component in particular, may not adequately prepare students for the workforce.