More and more Americans are clamoring for less expensive and flexible college degree options.

And while fiscal consciousness is a conservative concept, American Enterprise Institute’s Richard Vedder explains why less spending on colleges should be supported by progressives.  Vedder, who is also directs the Center for College Affordability and Productivity and teaches economics at Ohio University, explains in Minding the Campus.

Let us look at the typical liberal/progressive American who supported President Obama in 2012, who enthusiastically favors raising taxes on the affluent, and who supports most federal programs designed to help economically disadvantaged Americans. My guess is this individual also probably supports vastly expanding federal financial aid to college students, favors increased state appropriations for universities, and likes giving tax advantages to them as well. He or she fervently believes that higher education is a means to achieving the cherished goal of a far more egalitarian society, with smaller gaps between the haves and the have-nots.

I would argue, however, that liberals for whom income equality is a paramount goal are making a big mistake by supporting the policies outlined above. Rather, they should support:

  • Ending or drastically reducing federal student financial assistance programs;
  • Ending favored federal tax status of universities;
  • Taxing, not subsidizing, universities, such as by making wealthy colleges pay capital gains taxes on investments and on endowment income, and  by restricting tax deductibility for gifts to colleges;
  • Promoting more affordable non-degree ways of certifying employment competency, such as national examinations such as a new College Equivalence Examination that mirrors the GRE used at the high school level.

Why do I suggest this? Because I increasingly believe that public support of American higher education on balance has increased income inequality in the United States. In the interest of full disclosure, I personally do not believe that inequality is one of this nation’s top problems, and even believe that a healthy amount of it is necessary for a vibrant, growing economy. But I respect those who think differently.

Let me present a few facts that I think buttress my non-orthodox views on this topic:

  • Income inequality as conventionally measured by the Census Bureau has risen sharply in tandem with the growth in the percent of the American adult population with bachelor’s degrees from 11 percent in 1970 to 30 percent today;
  • A huge proportion of recent college graduates have both substantial loan debts and lousy jobs, and they disproportionately almost certainly come from lower -income backgrounds;
  • Colleges that have predominately lower-income students have drop-out rates dramatically higher than those catering to students from more affluent backgrounds…