Nicholas Lemann has it right:
“In higher education, the United States may be on its way to becoming more like the rest of the world, with a small group of schools controlling access to life membership in the élite. And higher education is becoming more like other areas of American life, with the fortunate few institutions distancing themselves ever further from the many. All those things which commencement speakers talk about—personal growth, critical-thinking skills, intellectual exploration, breadth of learning—will survive at the top institutions, but other colleges will come under increased pressure to adopt the model of trade schools. Student loans open access to students, and give colleges more freedom. Obama and Romney will have plenty to disagree about, and it’s good that the interest rate on student loans isn’t on the list. For the federal government to pump extra tuition money into the system, in the form of low-cost loans, in order to spread opportunity more widely, and to allow more schools to provide more than skills instruction, seems like a small price to pay for the kind of society it buys. ”
This is precisely what is behind the “reforms” of community colleges heading through the legislature right now.