Anthony Hennen writes for the Martin Center about competing ideas for improving universities.

Conservative thinkers are mostly united on the need for reforming the American college system, but they’re divided on how to do it. It can be hard to pin down, exactly, what is to be done, as the Martin Center has previously reported.

So it may be worthwhile to step back and look at what proposals are on the table.

Some may be utopian, others too targeted to have national implications, but they all aim to improve our flailing institutions that all-too-often cheat students out of a good education.

Build new universities

Some advocates say the only way to fix higher education is to create alternative institutions.

One advantage of this approach is that a few case studies exist: Hillsdale College in Michigan takes no federal money and is a pipeline of sorts into conservative policy circles. Grove City College in Pennsylvania is a similar, though less noted, example, as is the College of the Ozarks. This strategy actually works. It does not fix the mess of public higher education, but it gives students the option to avoid a campus that is hostile to conservative ideas.

The problem is that these are niche alternatives. …

Fund promising graduate students

Institution-building is hard, and gaining prestige is even harder. So rather than leaving prestigious institutions, conservatives could mentor and support promising students at elite colleges. That’s the preferred route for groups like the Institute for Humane Studies.

Academics are strongly left-leaning, so ensuring that a few conservatives stay on campus can make a difference. At the undergraduate and graduate levels, much good can come from supporting students interested in open debate and a genuine liberal arts education. Funding student travel for conferences or paying for their pizza at group meetings may do more than much of what is currently offered for “fixing the academy.”

The problem here is that these graduate students may not stay in academia (given the rotten job market), and may be pushed out by political litmus tests like diversity statements.