Tag: college tuition

A Bone Is Nice. Actually, No.

After House Republicans’ weak first attempt at offering cuts to gargantuan federal spending – a proposal that included nary a flick at education-related outlays – and the Obama administration’s hinting that it would leave education totally untouched, there is a tiny bit of good news: Both the GOP and the administration are apparently willing to trim funding putatively intended to help educate people. But these are just tiny bones they’re throwing to people who know that the federal government likely does zero net good when it comes to actually educating people, and that there is no acceptable excuse not to make big cuts to federal “education” programs.

House Republicans, for their part, scheduled lots of education programs for shaves in their second attempt at making a reasonable budget proposal. All told, though, the cuts would amount to only about $4.9 billion out of a total Department of Education budget of about $63 billion. For those keeping track at home, that’s just a 7.7 percent cut.

Now, maybe that would be reasonable if ED-administered programs worked, but as we at Cato’s Center for Educational Freedom have laid out repeatedly, they do not. Overall, they pour money into already cash-bloated K-12 and higher education systems; insulate public elementary and secondary schools from ever having to compete for and earn their money; and fuel rampant college tuition inflation by constantly increasing aid that lets schools raise their prices with impunity. Perhaps the most telling sign that the House GOP is not serious about really cutting Washington down to size, though, is that the laughable Exchanges with Historic Whaling and Trading Partners program is not on their chopping block. If you won’t pick off this ridiculous, almost-on-the-ground-it’s-hanging-so-low fruit, you simply aren’t really trying.

For the Obama administration, while the details of their proposed cuts aren’t yet out, early Fox News reporting says the administration will propose cutting Pell-Grant spending by $100 billion over ten years. That’s a bit surprising, because President Obama has made getting as many people to graduate college as possible – regardless, sadly, of whether that means there’s actually greater learning – a key education goal. Moreover, constantly growing Pell has long been a way for federal politicians to demonstrate that they ”care” about educating all Americans. So, maybe, one cheer for the administration.

Unfortunately, as is often the case when it comes to budgeting, this might be a trick. An unnamed administration official reportedly told Fox that the administration will propose keeping the maximum Pell at $5,550 a year and would realize savings by ending year-round Pell eligibility. With year-round Pell, a student could get two grants in a calendar year for taking a regular academic-year load as well as summer school. According to the Fox News story, the ”official said the costs” of year-round Pell ”exceeded expectations and there was little evidence that students earn their degrees any faster.”

So why’s this potentially a trick? The budget experts could no doubt give you lots of reasons, but knowing education policy I can safely say one thing: It is far too early to say whether or not the year-round Pell would help students earn their degrees any faster. Why? Because year-round Pell was only instituted in 2008, much too recently to have any useful empirical data about its effect on graduation rates. It also seems likely that this will produce no savings regardless because students will still take Pell grants for the same number of total credit hours.

Of course, the main problem with Pell is that it enables schools to ratchet up their tuition rates, capturing all the aid and not making students any better off. Even bigger than this, though, is that almost certainly because spending on education plays so well politically, the administration is ignoring the same screaming reality as the House GOP: Federal spending on education does little if any educational good! Add to that the unconstitutionality of federal involvement and there is simply no acceptable argument – including a desire to “win the future” – for not eliminating federal spending done in the name of “education.”  Indeed, if we want to win the future, ending bankrupting spending we know does zero good is absolutely imperative.

If China Jumped Off A Bridge, Would We Do It Too?

Everyone has heard that China is leaving us in its dust when it comes to producing college graduates, and if we don’t do something drastic to catch up they’ll crush us economically as well. Indeed, it’s a driving force behind efforts to ramp up federal higher education intervention.

As President Obama proclaimed when introducing his American Graduation Initiative, which is now part of the ironically titled Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act:

By 2020, this nation will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world….Already we’ve increased Pell grants by $500. We’ve created a $2,500 tax credit for four years of college tuition. We’ve simplified student aid applications….A new GI Bill of Rights…is beginning to help soldiers coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan to begin a new life – in a new economy.  And the recovery plan has helped close state budget shortfalls…at the same time making historic investments in school libraries and classrooms and facilities all across America.  So we’ve already taken some steps that are building the foundation for a 21st century education system…one that will allow us to compete with China and India and everybody else all around the world. 

Now, while a college education could furnish important learning that helps drive innovation and economic development, it could also be as worthless as conferring a bachelor’s degree on a dog. What’s important is that people actually learn things of value, not simply that they get degrees. But a funny thing happened in China…

Yesterday, news broke that China’s top education official has been sacked. Reports the New York Times:

Facing rising criticism over the quality of schools and a crush of jobless college graduates, China’s legislature announced Monday that it had removed the minister of education after six years on the job and replaced him with a deputy.

China has been cranking out college graduates at a breakneak pace, but the quality of the education has become highly suspect and, perhaps more importantly, there haven’t been nearly enough jobs to employ all the newly credentialed. In other words, simply producing more graduates – no matter how much it has frightened some people in America – has largely been a waste.

The obvious lesson from this should be that it’s foolish to simply make massively expanding the ranks of degree holders a national goal. But that doesn’t compute for many U.S. politicians, despite abundant evidence that we don’t need heaps more graduates anymore than China does. It’s getting elected that matters most to politicians, and as long as voters keep believing that government is opening the door to the middle class simply by pushing more and more people to college, politicians will keep wasting taxpayer dollars on unnecessary degrees.

So let’s hope that both voters and politicians will learn China’s clear college lesson: Fixating on degrees is not very smart. Failing that, let’s hope that we at least don’t have any rioting…