George Will: George Will Hates Big Government, But It's Big Government That Signs His Paycheck


George Will is a newspaper columnist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author. Will writes a bi-weekly column for the Washington Post in which he regularly espouses his disdain for the Obama administration and what he considers big government. Yet, when it comes to cashing in on the country’s student-loan crisis, George Will is perfectly content to be an active participant in perpetuating the type of government behavior that would appear to run counter to his political philosophy: using government and government spending as an way to spur private-sector growth.

It appears that George Will would have his readers do as he says, not as he does. What Mr. Will does not know — or perhaps chooses to ignore — is that he, too, is directly on the receiving end of government largesse. How?

To maintain profitability, one of Mr. Will’s employers, The Washington Post Company (TWPC), relies on revenue streams other than what it generates through subscriptions to its news services. Namely, TWPC props up its failing newspaper through its ownership of Kaplan University, a for-profit “institution of higher learning dedicated to providing innovative undergraduate, graduate, and continuing professional education,” among other business dealings.

In its 2012 annual report, TWPC reported that 55% of its total revenue came from the services offered by Kaplan, which include a very popular test-prep service in addition to the more traditional college classroom services it provides. The same report stated that a mere 14% of TWPC’s 2012 revenue came from newspaper publishing. This means that more than half of the TWPC’s business comes from education, and less than a quarter comes from actual newspaper services.

As I will explain, without the federal government propping up TWPC through disbursement of federal student loans to Kaplan University students, it is unlikely that TWPC would be able to survive. Is this good news for George Will and his agenda?

For TWPC’s most recent SEC filings, which cover fiscal year 2012, they report that, “Funds provided under the U.S. federal student financial aid programs … historically have been responsible for a majority of the [Kaplan Higher Education] revenues. During 2012, funds received under Title IV [student loan] programs accounted for approximately $882 million, or approximately 77%, of total [Kaplan Higher Education] revenues, and 40% of Kaplan, Inc. revenues.”

Less than half of the total revenue that Kaplan brings to the Washington Post table, and Will's paycheck, comes from federal student loans. But, no matter which way you look at it, George Will is still on the take from the same government he hopes to turn his readers against.

To simplify this money trail, it goes: Obama-run Department of Education disburses taxpayer-funded Title IV student loans to Kaplan University students, the students take this money and give it to Kaplan University (which gives them a very questionable education in return), and then the Washington Post Company (which owns Kaplan) puts this money directly into George Will’s checking account to finance his bi-weekly rants regarding this very same government activity he considers anathema to American values. If this isn't government-led private sector growth, I am not sure what is.  

I am a regular reader of his column. I read Will’s articles not for his stinging criticisms and relevant discourse regarding the debate over the role of government that is as old as the nation itself, but with hope that he will make a great baseball analogy or reference somewhere along the way (Will has written a book about the sport and was heavily featured in the Ken Burns documentary Baseball). Baseball fans beware — stick to the sports section in the Washington Post. George Will’s baseball references and analogies are as rare as a pitcher throwing a no-hitter.

It is not as if Will is ignorant of the student loan crisis and what he himself has described as an education bubble forming in this country: “So taxpayers should pay more and parents and students should borrow more to fund administrative sprawl in the service of stale political agendas? Perhaps they will, until 'pop!' goes the bubble.” It looks like he forgot to include TWPC and himself in his reasoning. How convenient. 

So, Mr. Will, if you truly abhor bloated government services, perhaps you should put taxpayer money where your mouth is: Step up to the plate and return, or refuse, your employer's money. I don’t think you should return all of it, just the part of your check that comes from federal student loans given to Kaplan University students. By my calculations, in 2012 that would have been about one quarter of total Washington Post Company revenue—and your paycheck from the company.