Elitism is distasteful to the citizens of democratic societies, but disguising it is a luxury we can no longer afford. We still need universities, but we need them to be, as in most periods of history, the domain of a relatively small group of people. Young people who are eager and intellectually capable should be encouraged to get a serious liberal arts education, and rewarded with opportunities that justify the investment. Those who are not should be directed to more targeted educational pathways that will enable them to find decent employment with a minimum of debt. Everyone should enjoy the fruits of a serious liberal arts education, but some may need to enjoy them less directly than others.
FLG keeps going back to that one passage in Tocqueville almost every time he reads something about higher ed, whether that's lamenting the downfall of liberal education or the impact online education will have:
It is evident that in democratic communities the interest of individuals as well as the security of the commonwealth demands that the education of the greater number should be scientific, commercial, and industrial rather than literary. Greek and Latin should not be taught in all the schools; but it is important that those who, by their natural disposition or their fortune, are destined to cultivate letters or prepared to relish them should find schools where a complete knowledge of ancient literature may be acquired and where the true scholar may be formed. A few excellent universities would do more towards the attainment of this object than a multitude of bad grammar-schools, where superfluous matters, badly learned, stand in the way of sound instruction in necessary studies.