Tag: student aid

Early Education: Lots of Noise, Little to Hear

This weekend, the Detroit News ran a letter to the editor taking issue with a piece I wrote about the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsbility Act (SAFRA). Strangley, though the main part of SAFRA deals with higher education loans; the bill contains new spending all over the education map; and I made no specific mention of early-childhood education in my piece (though there is an early-ed component in the bill); the letter is all about pre-K education.

That the pre-K pushers even saw my op-ed as something to write about illustrates how very agressive they are. Unfortunately, the letter also demonstrates how dubious is the message that they are so loudly and energetically proclaiming. Here’s a telling bit:

Economists, business leaders and scientists all know from cold, hard data that high-quality early education provides a significant return on investment in terms of education, social and health outcomes.

Whether pre-K education is worth even a dime all depends on how you define “high quality.” As Adam Schaeffer lays out in his new early-education policy analysis — and Andrew Coulson reiterates in an exchange with economist James Heckman — the “cold, hard data” say only that a few programs seem to work, and most don’t. Pronouncements about the huge returns on pre-K investment are almost always based on very small, hyper-intensive programs that would be all but impossible to replicate on a large scale. And the programs that do function on a large scale? As Adam lays out, they provide little to no return on investment.

The early-education crowd is very good at getting out its message. Too bad the message itself is so darn suspect.

Fretting about College Costs? Don’t Forget K-12!

There’s been much interest in the blogosphere recently over spiraling college costs. Niraj Chokshi kicked things off at the Atlantic, and the discussion was picked up by Andrew Sullivan and Ezra Klein, among others.

We’ll be hosting a debate on the causes of and solutions to this problem at Cato on the 6th of October, but in the meantime, it’s worth noting what the blogosphere has thus far overlooked: the epic productivity collapse in k-12 schooling over the past 40 years.

As I noted in Investors’ Business Daily last month, k-12 spending has risen by a factor of 2.3 since 1969, while achievement at the end of high-school is flat. The scary details can be found here.

If public school productivity had merely stayed where it was in 1970, instead of collapsing as it did, Americans would enjoy a permanent $300+ billion annual tax cut.

State-run schooling has become so profligate and inefficient, in fact, that one recent study finds higher public school spending is associated with LOWER subsequent economic growth.

Oh, and regarding the education vs. health care debate that started all this: k-12 productivity trends seem worse than those in health care.

Lots of Higher Ed Stuff

Probably because it’s back-to-school time, there are lots of interesting higher education related items worth checking out today. Here are a few:

  1. I have a new op-ed on the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsbility Act, the bill that we’re told will save taxpayer money but will almost certainly cost us tens of billions. Meanwhile, the Associated Press published a big article on “spin” about the legislation that ignores supporters’ extremely dubious assertions about SAFRA’s true costs – the AP repeats the supposed savings line without question – but instead focuses on whether Pell Grant increases will be as large as some people hope .
  2. Over at the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, they’re running a three-part series that’s really a lengthy email exchange among numerous experts, including myself, on controlling college costs. The central question is whether more government “transparency” requirements hold the key to containing skyrocketing college prices, or whether what we really need is to cut third-party payments. I think I’ve made it clear where I stand, but if you’re not sure (or even for some reason want other opinions) definitely take in the Pope series. Also, mark your calendars for a debate we’ll be having on this subject right here at Cato on October 6!
  3. William McGurn has an excellent commentary in the Wall Street Journal explaining that – shocker! – you can make a very good living without getting a college degree.
  4. I haven’t read it yet but have seen a summary, and if the summary is accurate a new paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research shows that colleges and universities contribute no more to their local economies than “other forms of economic activity.” This puts another serious hole in the highly suspect argument that more public money for higher education is good because enriching colleges is better for everyone.

And that’s the ivy-ensconsed news for today!

What “Taxpayers?”

In an editorial yesterday on President Obama’s proposal to end federal guaranteed student lending and turn everything into loans and grants direct from Uncle Sam, the New York Times had an interesting take on what constitutes putting ”taxpayers’ interests first”:

Private companies that reap undeserved profits from the federal student-loan program are gearing up to kill a White House plan that would get them off the dole and redirect the savings to federal scholarships for the needy. Instead of knuckling under to the powerful lending lobby, as it has so often done in the past, Congress needs to finally put the taxpayers’ interests first.

So let me get this straight: Redirecting tax dollars from lenders – who do get cushy fees and security through the guaranteed loan program – and giving it to students is somehow in the best interest of taxpayers? Maybe I’m old fashioned or something, but wouldn’t the best thing for taxpayers be to get their money back, not just see it shuffled from one special interest to another?

Obviously it would, and not just because taxpayers are best off when they decide how their ducats are used. As Andrew Gillen and I made clear in a Capitol Hill briefing last week, the best thing that could happen for taxpayers, students, and all of society would be for the federal government to provide much less aid to students, not more. The reality is that student aid drives massive, self-defeating college price inflation, creates ugly bloat and waste in our ivory towers, and ultimately cramps economic growth.

And we wonder why there are tea parties!