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Event Summary

Are college students being deceived by broken promises regarding future income? At a book forum hosted by AEI’s Alex Pollock on Wednesday, an expert panel addressed this critical question and related higher education finance issues.

William Bennett and David Wilezol presented the findings from their new book “Is College Worth It?” (Thomas Nelson, April 2013).  Bennett advocated the useful skills that students gain in programs such as science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, while Wilezol stressed the common misconceptions that everyone should go to college and that expensive “brand name” colleges necessarily generate success. These mistaken perceptions inflate student debt, said Wilezol, and may lead to economic and personal disappointment.

Richard George of the Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation explained that the overwhelming majority of student loan defaulters have not completed a degree, and many defaulters belong to a low-income cohort. He suggested that students should not be allowed to borrow until they have “demonstrated the capacity to persist” in higher education.

Richard Vedder of AEI and the Center for College Affordability and Productivity discussed the economic realities of college, contrasting the idea of college as consumption with that of college as investment. He concluded that higher education reform can be achieved with information, incentives, and innovation.
–Lilla Lukacs

Event Description

In their forthright and provocative new book “Is College Worth It?,” former secretary of education Bill Bennett and coauthor David Wilezol set out to “expose the cold reality and empty rhetoric of much college education.” Why is the average cost-benefit ratio of college deteriorating? Bennett and Wilezol observe, “Just as real estate agents and home builders benefitted from the massive influx of easy money . . . so do colleges and universities,” while their “administrative bloat increases.” The college campus, “with [its] drinking, drugs, partying, sex and sometimes learning,” is producing “a glut of BA holders” at a high cost that is sometimes worth it and sometimes not.

“College should come with a bright red warning label: Warning! High risk of debt and unemployment,” they suggest. The book presents a number of fundamental ideas about how to reduce the cost and increase the value of higher education.

At this event, Bennett and Wilezol will present their book, higher education finance experts Richard George, Representative Tom Petri, and Richard Vedder will provide discussion, and a coffee reception and book signing will follow.

If you are unable to attend, we welcome you to watch the event live on this page. Full video will be posted within 24 hours.


12:00 PM
Registration and Buffet Lunch

12:30 PM
William J. Bennett, “Bill Bennett’s Morning in America” and the Claremont Institute
David Wilezol, “Bill Bennett’s Morning in America”

Richard George, Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation
Tom Petri, US House of Representatives (R-WI)
Richard Vedder, AEI and the Center for College Affordability

Alex J. Pollock, AEI

1:45 PM
Coffee Reception and Book Signing

Event Contact Information

For more information, please contact Emily Rapp at [email protected], 202.419.5212.

Media Contact Information

For media inquiries, please contact [email protected], 202.862.5829.

Speaker Biographies

William J. Bennett is one of America’s most important, influential, and respected voices on cultural, political, and education issues. He is a senior adviser to Project Lead The Way, is on the advisory board of, and is chief education adviser to Beanstalk Innovation. Bennett is an award-winning professor in academia, having taught at Boston University, the University of Texas, and Harvard University; served as secretary of education under Ronald Reagan and was America’s first drug czar under President George H.W. Bush; is the author of more than 24 books, including two New York Times number one bestsellers and two of the most successful books of the 1990s; and is the host of “Bill Bennett’s Morning in America.” Bennett’s latest book is “Is College Worth It?” (Thomas Nelson, April 2013). His three-volume set on the history of the US, titled “America: The Last Best Hope” (Thomas Nelson, 2007), has been widely praised. In 2002, he was named by focus groups and leading analysts as the “Best Communicator of 2002” and the most well-received public commentator on the issues of “pride, patriotism, faith, and moral conviction.” In April 2005, the Sunday New York Times named Bennett the “leading spokesman of the Traditional Values wing of the Republican Party.” Although he is a well-known Republican, Bennett has often crossed party lines to pursue important common purposes. He has worked closely with Democratic leaders such as Senator Joseph Lieberman to fight the decline of popular culture and to end worldwide religious persecution. He is the recipient of more than 30 honorary degrees.

Richard George is chairman, president, and CEO of the Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation. George has been substantially involved in government and public finance and postsecondary educational finance since beginning his career in 1972. Formerly a bond lawyer and an investment banker, he has also served as a public official and on numerous government task forces. He was previously director and chairman of the Finance and Audit Committee of the Board of Directors of the National Student Clearinghouse and was a designee of the US comptroller general and the US secretary of education to the study group for the “Study of the Feasibility of Alternative Financial Instruments for Determining Lender Yields.” He was a principal negotiator in the 1992, 1998, and 2007 US Department of Education-negotiated rulemaking committees for the Title IV loan programs. He has also consulted on postsecondary educational finance for the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation subsidiary and authored a number of published pieces on the student loan industry. He currently serves as chairman of the Wisconsin Covenant Foundation Inc. and as a director of the National Association of Student Loan Administrators.

Tom Petri is a US representative for Wisconsin’s Sixth Congressional District, and is currently serving his 18th term in the House of Representatives. He is a member of both the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Committee on Education and the Workforce. He is the current chairman of the Highways and Transit Subcommittee and previously served as chairman of the Aviation Subcommittee. Known for his innovative and creative solutions to government problems, Rep. Petri has pursued legislative initiatives in several areas, including student loan reform, the federal highway program, cost-sharing for federal water projects, tax and welfare reform, and health care reform.

Alex J. Pollock joined AEI in 2004 after 35 years in banking. He was formerly president and CEO of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago from 1991 to 2004. He is the author of numerous articles on financial systems and the organizer of the Deflating Bubble series of AEI conferences. In 2007, he developed a one-page mortgage form to help borrowers understand their mortgage obligations. At AEI, he focuses on financial policy issues, including housing finance, government-sponsored enterprises, retirement finance, corporate governance, accounting standards, and the banking system. He is the lead director of CME Group, a director of Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation and the International Union for Housing Finance, and chairman of the board of the Great Books Foundation.

Richard Vedder is the distinguished professor of economics at Ohio University, director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, and an adjunct scholar at AEI. He previously served as a member of former US Department of Education secretary Margaret Spelling’s Commission of the Future of Higher Education. Vedder has written widely on American economic history, authoring such books as “Out of Work: Unemployment and Government in Twentieth-Century America and The American Economy in Historical Perspective” (NYU Press, 1997) and “Going Broke by Degree: Why College Costs Too Much” (AEI Press, 2004).  Vedder is also the author of numerous scholarly papers for journals in economics and public policy, as well as shorter pieces for the popular press including The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, The American, the CATO Journal, and Forbes.

David Wilezol is the associate producer of the nationally syndicated radio show “Bill Bennett’s Morning in America,” and coauthor, with Bennett, of the recent book “Is College Worth It?” (Thomas Nelson, 2013). He is also a contributor to Minding the Campus, the Manhattan Institute’s higher education policy blog. In 2012, he was a Claremont Institute Publius Fellow.


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