Once again we are hearing about plans to “fix” higher education, with new programs that will make college education free, improve graduation rates, increase minority enrollment, boost “learning outcomes” and help us all lose weight while sleeping. Yes, I made the last one up. It didn’t seem any less plausible than the rest of the current claptrap from the Obama Administration and their acolytes in edutopia.
The first proposal addresses the “problem” of student loans — perhaps spurred by $1.2 trillion in student debt and a 10 percent — plus rate of default. It’s a deceptively simple idea: students may attend college free in the present, in exchange for promising to pay a percentage of their earnings after graduation into a trust account which will be used to fund students who follow. Oregon is currently exploring such a system; they estimate the amount of “seed money” required to begin is about $1.6 billion. The trust will be self-funding thereafter — just like Social Security ...
One of the problems with this is conceptual: why would a student who refuses to pay back a student loan be persuaded to take a pay cut for the same purpose? And what of the choice of field? Since payback is taken as a percentage of one’s salary — thus punishing the successful, a Liberal favorite — would there be a greater tendency to avoid high-paying “STEP” fields, in which we are trying to increase enrollment? This would set the program at cross-purposes with our stated national goals for higher education. But Colorado Commission on Higher Education Vice Chairman Patricia Pacey thinks it worth considering, so expect the “study now, pay later” come-on to make an appearance in Colorado sooner than one can say “No money down!”
The other proposals were aired by the Campaigner-in-Chief at the start of a bus tour of college campuses. Mouthing tired shibboleths about “change,” “fairness” and the justice of providing lots of stuff at others’ expense, he worked to woo one of the few audiences left gullible enough to buy this codswallop.
If President Obama has his way, beginning in 2015 federal grant money for education will be tied to the percentage of “low-income” students and graduation rates, as well as student debt and tuition. While this may sound fine to those who think of a college education as a ticket to punch on the way to a front-office job with a nonprofit solar energy company, those concerned about the quality of higher education will have a few questions.
The first mandates raising the number of “low-income” college enrollees. Given that nationally, only 25 percent of students taking the ACT exam were found to be college-ready, just about every student who qualifies is already college-bound. That includes Colorado. Even among the eight states who test all students, we are third in writing, second in reading and math. Overall, we are 47th. So what’s a college to do?
Educational administrators aren’t dumb, Harvard’s Larry Summers notwithstanding. Wave a million-dollar federal grant around and many of them will be able to quote the fine print by heart before the request for proposals has even stopped fluttering. If “raising low-income enrollee numbers” is a requirement, you can bet a way will be found to comply. Call it a “prepare for success” curriculum. But this is college, so tuition will have to be paid. And since these are subjects which should have been mastered in high school, giving college credit wouldn’t be right. Given the amount of cash involved, the response for educational institutions is easy to guess.
To get the dough, a college will have to hang on to those students through graduation. So certain ... alterations … will have to be made to what is considered an acceptable level of work. But these adjustments will founder on a hard reality: one cannot want more for a student than the student wants for him or herself — as 30 years of public K-12 education “reform” clearly show. Pursuit of “fairness,” “inclusion” and “equity” has resulted in high school graduates woefully unprepared for either college or work; in fourth grade, every participant may get a prize, but the real world isn’t like that.
What does it say of the president that he now proposes applying these same principles to the system that supplies our engineers, doctors, research physicists, mathematicians, computer designers and chemists? Mostly, that he wants the outsourcing of these high-paying fields to continue. His words sound good but they are poisonous, and his willingness to smash a world-leading system of higher education to compel some vague ideal, in an attempt to curry favor with an audience too callow to calculate the results, reveals much about his egotism, his ignorance and his cravenness.
None of it good.
Morgan Liddick lives in Summit County and pens a weekly column for the Summit Daily News.