Tag: student aid

No Profile in Courage Here, Either

Yesterday, speaking at Facebook headquarters, President Obama assessed the guts of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) and other congressional Republicans and concluded that their deficit reduction plan isn’t “particularly courageous.” That might be accurate – their plan lacks specificity and could target a lot more for elimination – but it’s pretty rich for the President to throw out such a conclusion. After all, his whole strategy appears to be the bankruptingly lame-but-safe crying of doom for cute kids and other supposedly defenseless people no matter what the size of the proposed cut to a social program or how ineffective the program has been. That, and the constant lamentation that “the rich” – a small and therefore electorally weak group of voters – don’t pay their fair share. (And the constitutionality of federal programs? That doesn’t even get a mention.)

Representative of this cowardly course is the President’s mantra about “investing” more in education-related programs despite blaring evidence that the programs don’t work or, as is the case with federal student aid, actually make the problem they’re supposed to solve much worse. But the President wants votes – like most politicians, he wants lots of people to think he’s giving them great stuff for free – so he’s not doing the mildly courageous thing and telling people “look, these programs don’t work, we have a titanic debt, and I’m going to cut things that might sound good but aren’t.” No, he’s doing things like going to community colleges and, in front of cheering groups of students, talking about mean Republicans and how he wants to protect students just like them by keeping the federal dollars flowing.

That’s no profile in courage, nor is it a responsible way to deal with the federal government’s gigantic problems.

The Student Aid Did It!

The College Board is out with its annual reports on college prices and student aid, and the story is pretty familiar. According to The New York Times, the reports reveal that over the last year tuition and fees rose 8 percent at public, four-year schools, and 4.5 percent at private non-profits. Meanwhile, student aid rose at a very fast clip. Indeed, over the last five years, despite lightning-quick growth in sticker prices, after-aid college costs actually dropped.

Now, don’t expect to hear this from the College Board or even mentioned in the Times, but doesn’t it seem at least plausible that giving more and more aid to students enables schools to raise prices? You know, that colleges might jack up tuition and fees knowing that government, largely, will ensure that students can cover them? It’s not only plausible, it’s almost certainly the case. But like I said, forget about ever reading that in The New York Times. Instead, we get this standard lament:

“The College Board figures are depressing and utterly predictable,” said Terry Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education. “When states cut funding for higher education, tuitions go up to make up for the difference.”

Dealing with this one gets incredibly tiresome, and it should infuriate taxpayers who fund both massive student aid and subsidies to public colleges.

For one thing, of course, cuts in  state subsidies don’t explain constantly increasing private school costs. Moreover, while no doubt public schools sometimes raise tuition to make up for state funding dips, they also raise it when state funding is going up. Indeed, as this chart from the State Higher Education Executive Officers illustrates, public schools raise prices no matter what is going on with state and local subsidies:

How can schools get away with this? Because students are able to cover the incessantly rising prices. And how can students do that? By using more and more money that comes from someone else!

The data scream this reality so loudly even passed-out undergrads could hear it. So why does it get so little attention? In part, no doubt, because many in the media refuse to even consider that there could be a causal connection between ballooning aid and skyrocketing prices. Even worse, the people controlling the aid see votes, votes, votes from playing education Warbucks. And if, say, the President of the United States can buy votes with student aid, why would he ever admit that his “generosity” mainly just lets higher education bleed taxpayers dry? The unfortunate answer is, he wouldn’t.

Federal Employees and College Costs

For a long time now I’ve been writing about how student aid fuels explosive college costs, while Chris Edwards and Tad DeHaven have been highlighting the ever-cushier compensation of federal workers. Well, I’m pleased to have finally discovered a direct linkage between these topics: A new U.S. Office of Personnel  Management report on student loan repayment programs for federal workers.

According to the report, in calendar year 2009 “36 Federal agencies provided 8,454 employees with a total of more than $61.8 million in student loan repayment benefits.”

Now, 8,454 employees is a small chunk of the entire, roughly 2-million-person federal workforce. Still, $61.8 million isn’t anything to sniff at, and loan forgiveness is one more perk that needs to be considered when thinking of federal worker compensation. And then there’s the trajectory of forgiveness: According to the report, spending on student-loan forgiveness by federal agencies in 2009 was “more than 19 times” bigger than it was in 2002. Were things to continue at that rate, in 2017 the cost would be almost $1.2 billion, and then you’d almost be talking real money!

The important point from a student-aid perspective is to emphasize something that must never be forgotten: While many analyses of student aid will only count grants – because they don’t ever have to be paid back – as “aid,” the reality is that that hugely under counts the true cost of federal aid to taxpayers. In addition to grants, taxpayers fund all federal student loans (and eat them when they aren’t repaid), help finance work-study, and pay for federal expenses that people taking federal education tax credits don’t pay for. So when you look just at federal grants, the bill for taxpayers in the 2008-09 school year was about $24.8 billion (see table 1). Add in loans, credits, and work-study, however, and the bill suddenly balloons to nearly $116.8 billion.

“But wait,” will say the only-grants-are-aid crowd, “isn’t a lot of that $116.8 billion loan money that will be paid back?” Yup – it’s just that at least $61.8 million of that repayment is coming, once again, from beleaguered federal taxpayers. And that, to be sure, is just the tip of the federal loan-forgiveness iceberg.

Gagging on SAFRA

With national curriculum standards now getting some real attention, I haven’t been able to give the plan to shove bankrupting student aid legislation down our thoats via health-care reconciliation the scourging it deserves. I will soon, but until then this “Water Cooler” piece from the Washington Times should slake your thirst. Here’s a choice quote:

Watching the Democrats create two massive pieces of rotten legislation by themselves is bad enough, but piling them together is like watching someone make an enormous Dagwood sandwich with mysterious fillings and make you eat the mile high concoction in one sitting.

Darn — acckkk! — right!

If There’s Money, We Want It! (Whatever “It” Is.)

There seems to be a real trend in Washington to declare support for a bill now, but actually have the bill exist later. It’s been most obvious in the health care marathon, where often purely notional pieces of legislation have been boisterously celebrated or bemoaned for months. It’s also the case with the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act, which may or may not be tacked on to health-care reconcilation because supporters don’t, you know, want to actually debate the thing. Currently, there is no Senate version of SAFRA, and it’s unclear what changes would need to be made to the House version to make it reconcilable.

So why are so many people willing to take big chances on legislation that only exists in the fertile minds of congresspeople? As this Inside Higher Ed article on community colleges illustrates, it’s often because they want taxpayer money – $12 billion is the community colleges’ hoped for windfall – no matter what:

Sensing the urgency of the moment on Capitol Hill, many community college advocates believe that budget reconciliation is the most likely route for passage of the AGI this year. They argue that time is of the essence for those community college trustees and presidents visiting town for the summit to lobby their representatives and senators without focusing on quibbles over the bill.

“I know there’s a lot of discussion for many of you [about] what’s in the program,” said Jee Hang Lee, ACCT director of public policy. “‘What’s in the final program for SAFRA? What’s in the final program for AGI? What is it going to look like?’ What we’ve heard is that, for the most part, the House and Senate staffs and the White House have something in place. I don’t know what it looks like. I don’t know many people who do know what it looks like. But they have a broad agreement on the structure of these programs, so that’s nice to know that they have because that means it’ll likely get funded.”

Still, he advised visiting trustees and presidents to be direct in their support for the bill and wait until later to work out potential kinks in its specific provisions.

“My point is that you just need to press hard to get this money and get it passed, and we can work out some of the details, I guess, later, I guess through the negotiated rule-making period,” Lee said.

Hmm. And I guess money grabs like these explain a good bit of why the national debt is now approaching $12.6 trillion.

Arne Duncan Embraces False Friedman

In a shocking development, U.S. Secretary of Arne Duncan embraced the ideas of Milton Friedman today, championing the funding of students instead of schools! Unfortunately, it was in the context of higher education – Duncan and his boss have done all they can to destroy school choice elsewhere – and he completely misrepresented what Friedman said about higher ed, suggesting that the Nobel Laureate somehow endorsed the federal Direct Loan Program:

We will end the loans under the Federal Family Education Program and make them directly to students – just as economist Milton Friedman proposed 50 years ago, and just as the Department of Education has been doing since 1993 through the Direct Loan Program.

Were Milton Friedman still with us, I think he would be pretty miffed with Duncan. For one thing, 50 years ago there was no Federal Family Education Loan Program. Moreover, assuming Duncan is referring to Friedman’s “The Role of Government in Education,” Friedman was clearly stating that if there is going to be any higher education aid it should go to students, not schools. And then there’s this:

The resulting system would follow in its broad outlines the arrangements adopted in the United States after World War II for financing the education of veterans, except that the funds would presumably come from the States rather than the Federal government [italics added].

It’s bad enough that Duncan and his boss reject Friedman’s very wise and proven counsel when it comes to elementary and secondary education. It’s even worse that Duncan then has the gall to blatantly lie about what Friedman wrote in an effort to sell a rotten and costly piece of federal legislation, the laughably titled Student Aid and Fiscal Repsonsibility Act.

Dr. Frankenstein on His Creation: It’s All The Monster’s Fault

As I have explained on numerous occasions, supporters of the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA) – which would end federal guaranteed student loans, turn everything into lending direct from Uncle Sam, and spend the resulting savings and way much more – have often shamelessly promoted the bill as a boon to taxpayers when it will almost certainly cost them tens-of-billions.  Where they have generally been right is in rebutting criticisms that SAFRA would be a federal takeover of a private industry. With lender profits all but assured under federal guaranteed lending, the vast majority of student loans haven’t been truly private for decades.

Unfortunately, SAFRA advocates are just as clueless – or, more likely, rhetorically unbridled – about what constitutes a private entity as are status-quo supporters. Case in point, an article in today’s Huffington Post that, along with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, attempts to portray the suddenly rocky road ahead for SAFRA as a result of evil lender lobbyists dropping boulders in the selfless legislation’s way:

Taking aim at Sallie Mae, the largest student lender in the country and a driving force behind the lobbying effort, Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Tuesday accused the company of using taxpayer funds to lobby and advertise, and cast its executives as white-collar millionaires uninterested in serious education reform.

“Sallie Mae executives have paid themselves hundreds of millions of dollars in the last decade while teachers, nurses, and scientists – the backbone of the new economy – face crushing debt because of runaway college tuition costs,” Duncan said.

Here Sallie Mae is painted in the same ugly hues as Lehman Brothers, AIG, and all the other supposedly rapacious, unscrupulous companies whose unchecked greed, we’re told, brought the American economy to its knees. (We also get the baseless but obligatory pronouncement about “crushing debt” for teachers and other toilers for the “public good.”)

But wait! Doesn’t  “Sallie Mae” sound a lot like”Fannie Mae” and “Freddie Mac”? Of course! That’s because just like Fannie and Freddie, Sallie was created by the federal government,  only with Sallie’s job being to furnish lots of cheap college loans. And guess what? Just like Fannie and Freddie, Sallie became by far the biggest kid on her block because her huge federal creator fed her and protected her for decades, not setting her off on her own until 1996. But that part of her story doesn’t fit anywhere into the evil corporation narrative, so it’s just not mentioned.  All we need to know is Sallie is private, her owners and employees make a lot of money, and that is why she is evil and dangerous.

And so the politics of demonization and denial, a staple of the recession blame game, continues. Private institutions are portrayed as malevolent predators and government as a warm, pure, protective father-figure. But there is much more accurate imagery possible when it comes to Sallie Mae: Egomaniacal Dr. Frankenstein furiously blaming the monster he created for doing exactly what he built it to do.

And some wonder why there’s such widespread outrage – the real reason SAFRA is in trouble – about ever-expanding federal power?