The U.S. is having a political debate about college tuition loans. Everyone seems to be in favor of keeping the loan rates low, but politicians disagree about how to pay for the subsidized rates. (The interest rate on government-guaranteed loans will double this July, from 3.4% to 6.8%, unless Congress takes action.)
Lost in this fight is any discussion at all about which students - and which colleges - get these subsidies. Right now, the subsidized loans are available to almost any institution that calls itself a college or university.
But what about institutions that provide a substandard education? Or worse, what about institutions that educate people in quackery and pseudoscience? Subsidies to these institutions are worse than useless. These so-called colleges spread misinformation that will require much more investment to correct, if it is even possible. Why, to be specific, is the U.S. government subsidizing students to attend chiropractic colleges?
Chiropractic colleges are a relatively new invention, as is the entire profession. Chiropractic was invented out of whole cloth by D.D. Palmer in the 1890s. He mistakenly believed that misalignments of the spine, which he called subluxations, caused a vast range of health problems, even infectious diseases. Over a century later, chiropractic colleges continue to preach this nonsense; here is what Palmer College of Chiropractic says:
"Improper function of the spine due to slight misalignments—called subluxations—can cause poor health or function, even in areas far removed from the spine and spinal cord itself."Subluxations have never been shown to cause disease. In fact, subluxations of the spine have not even been shown to exist. Despite the thorough lack of evidence, chiropractors appear to be quite skilled at keeping patients returning for "adjustments" to maintain good health. I wonder how much time is spent in chiropractic colleges teaching students about the need for regular spinal adjustments? As retired chiropractor Sam Homola wrote recently:
"The only thing unique about chiropractic is its basic definition as a method of adjusting vertebral subluxations to restore and maintain health.... The subluxation theory has been the chiropractic profession’s only reason for existence since its inception in 1895."I wonder, too, if chiropractic colleges educate their students about the risk of stroke from their treatments. The rapid head-twisting move that many chiropractors use, which produces a startling cracking sound in the neck, also carries a small but real (and frightening) risk of tearing one of the arteries in the neck. Chiropractors dispute this claim, but studies have shown that patients with vertebral tears are much more likely to have recently visited a chiropractor. A systematic review of the evidence in 2010 concluded
"Numerous deaths have occurred after chiropractic manipulations. The risks of this treatment by far outweigh its benefit."On top of their dubious educational programs, chiropractic colleges pay their presidents astonishingly high salaries, as documented recently in the Chronicle of Higher Education, which pointed out that
"the presidents of chiropractic colleges are taking in some of the biggest paychecks in higher education."For example, the president of Logan College of Chiropractic, which has a budget of $24.5 million, earned $791,418 in 2009. That's the same salary earned by the president of CalTech, which has a budget 100 times larger.
Low-cost student loans provide a benefit to many students and their universities. But we don't need to subsidize erroneous and misguided colleges that teach their students nonsense. If Congress is going to extend the student loan program, they should take this chance to make the program far more selective. Helping students get a good education helps the country. Lending students money to learn pseudoscience does just the opposite.