But there is little indication that the United States was suffering a shortage of institutions to provide useful training to future engineers and scientists.
Instead, Morrill-funded education crowded out many private institutions that were successfully training large numbers of people, and both college enrollment and the economy grew faster before the Act took root than after.
As subsidies have become far more ubiquitous, higher education has become dangerously bloated. This has increasingly caused faculty and administrators to wrestle for the steering wheels of their Titanics. Or perhaps Carnival Cruise ships, as waterparks have become a growing presence on campuses.
When the federal government started replacing student’s money with government grants and loans, it had to ensure that dollars weren’t flowing to diploma mills.
In so doing, it took once collegial college accreditation and made it a live-or-die process, heavily controlled by Washington, through which institutions must pass to access students with now-essential federal aid, and that restricts what new models, such as low-cost online education, can viably enter the market.
The sector that has tried hardest to work with the people most poorly served by traditional institutions has been for-profits, with schools that offer classes in demand by non-traditional students and on schedules convenient for students often working and rearing children.
Is this charitable outreach or predation? It’s neither.