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Next: The college bubble?

GOV. RICK Perry has hit the national stage with a number of controversies, but he's yet to raise a legitimate kitchen-table issue he's pressing in Texas.

GOV. RICK Perry has hit the national stage with a number of controversies, but he's yet to raise a legitimate kitchen-table issue he's pressing in Texas.

Perry has been pushing schools in the Texas system of higher education to come up with a $10,000 college degree. That's right, he wants at least some of the state colleges to provide a diploma that will cost only $10,000 in toto - not a year.

As Carrie Lukas points out in an op-ed in the Washington Times, college presidents in the state scoff at the idea, claiming that the quality of education will suffer greatly with such a low-ticket degree.

Lukas cites Bill Gates, who recently argued that "without the parties" college should cost just a few thousand dollars. Gates has argued that a number of initiatives can lower the cost of college. Expanded use of online courses and getting credits by exams that demonstrate competency are just two ways to put the brakes on runaway college costs.

A recent piece in the Atlantic by Andrew Hacker, on the faculty at Queens College, and Claudia Dreifus, who teaches at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs, lays out all the excessive spending that dominates U.S. colleges.

Some examples are sobering.

They point out that Vanderbilt pays its president $2.4 million, and Stanford professors now get paid sabbaticals every fourth year - $115,000 for not teaching.

But the factoid that really jumped out at me is that they report that Penn State provides legal downloads of music numbering 2 million songs a week.

That's right, the same Penn State that couldn't find savings in their over $4 billion a year budget is using tuition and taxpayer money to give students 2 million songs a week. Where do free music downloads fall within the educational mission of a college?

This raises the obvious question of what other excesses are colleges like Penn State engaged in. Can they really defend actions like this, let alone even explain them? Can colleges really defend annually raising tuition at a rate that's 5 percent over the annual rate of inflation?

But there's some evidence that colleges really do care about their students. The website the Daily Caller ( recently did an exposé on colleges that are encouraging their students to sign up for food stamps. They cite Portland State University, which devotes a page on its website to explaining the ease with which students can receive the benefits and providing instructions on how to apply. Cornell, Des Moines State, Odessa College, in Texas, and several others are cited as places where food stamp use is encouraged.

Meanwhile, the recession hasn't slowed the insatiable rate of tuition increases that Big College has been able to enact. As Hacker and Dreifus point out, public universities haven't been slowing their hikes even as we've seen cutbacks in funding for state governments. They say that the University of Illinois' $13,658 tuition is six times its 1980 rate after adjusting for inflation. San Jose State's $6,250 is a whopping 11 times more.

Closer to home, the Commonwealth Foundation, a conservative think tank, notes that Penn State has doubled tuition over the last decade, grown its administrative staff per 100 students by 70.8 percent from 1993 to 2007, and admitted that it doesn't fully utilize its buildings, yet brags about getting rid of 8 a.m. classes.

All this Big College excess has left students with a huge debt problem. College loans, which are approaching the $1 trillion mark, represent more debt than all households owe on their credit cards.

My biggest fear with all this debt is that we might very well see the next economic crisis coming from the bursting of the Big College bubble.

As Hacker and Dreifus point out, the problem is similar to the housing bubble. "The parallels," they say, "are striking. In both, the written warnings aren't understood, especially on penalties and interest rates. And in both, it's assumed that what's being bought will rise in value, in one case the real estate, in the other the salaries which will accrue with a degree. One bubble has burst; the second is already losing air."

The bottom line is this: The price of college is too damn high. Young people, their parents and taxpayers are being shortchanged by those who have carved out a nice living in running Big College.