The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is to the economy what sharks are to shipwrecked people: very bad news. Like most union-sympathetic organizations, the NLRB serves the profligacy of the few against the economic interests of the many.
The NLRB on Tuesday struck another blow against America. It did so by ruling that graduate students who teach at private colleges may organize and collectively bargain for compensation. On the face of it, the decision sounds moral. In reality, however, the decision will have three negative effects on students.
First, it will reduce the quality of undergraduate education. Employing graduate students will become more expensive, so colleges will limit their involvement in teaching. Colleges will have to mitigate this cost hike by seeking alternatives. We should expect private colleges to sacrifice seminar sessions for cheaper Internet sessions. But this will degrade education quality. After all, a key imperative of any college degree is to stimulate a lifelong intellectual curiosity. And while reading books, writing papers and taking exams are necessary in that pursuit, person-to-person interaction remains fundamental. Graduate students are best placed to facilitate such formative interactions. Often closer in age to undergraduates than professors, they are less intimidating and more accessible. And in an age where ideologically doctrinaire reading lists are increasingly the norm, the need for unrestrained seminar debate is crucial.
Second, while the graduate students who petitioned the NLRB may claim otherwise, higher compensation will fall on the shoulders of other students. As Jillian Melchior notes, the record of collective bargaining in private higher education costs is clear. “New York University is among the only private institutions to allow its grad students to organize—and in 2002, when it reached its first labor agreement with its newly unionized grad students, labor costs increased by more than 50 percent in the subsequent four-year period.” This speaks to the fact that nothing is free. Things must be paid for.
Correspondingly, the NLRB is forcing colleges to charge students higher fees and cut scholarships to balance the books. Sadly, with private colleges already exorbitantly expensive, the burden of higher tuition costs will fall disproportionately on poorer students. Over time, tuition hikes will price-out talented students from taking on bigger loans. There’s a broader issue of economic morality at stake here. Just as leftists ignore the negative impact of the minimum wage in reducing employment and increasing goods prices, the NLRB has decided to restrict access to opportunity.
Graduate students themselves will also face difficulties. Some will no doubt benefit from higher salaries and better benefits. But they will be in the minority. In an effort to hold down costs, private colleges will push back on baseline graduate grants and benefits such as dorm accommodation, cafeteria access and faculty mentorship.
Yet until now, offering these benefits as compensation, graduate students and the college have mutually benefited. The NLRB’s edict means colleges limit students’ opportunities. This is not complicated. It is basic economics.
Don’t get me wrong. Beyond the NLRB, there are many problems in America’s higher education system. Still, this decision is no solution. Instead, it moves American students and society in the wrong direction by throwing up new obstacles to opportunity.
Tom Rogan is a Senior Contributor for Opportunity Lives and writes for National Review. He is a panelist on The McLaughlin Group and a senior fellow at the Steamboat Institute. Follow him on Twitter @TomRtweets.