Some Modest Proposals For Higher Education Reform

As the subject of higher education funding comes up (mainly prompted by the Occupy Wall Street gits), I find myself thinking of ways to improve the situation. And I have a few notions I’d like to kick around — mainly aimed at keeping the young and foolish from saddling themselves with decades of debt. Most of them revolve around protecting themselves from themselves.

 

The first thought is this: no loans for students who haven’t declared a major after their first semester. You wanna take your time and “find yourself,” then do it on your own dime.

 

Next, all students will be presented with a chart that compares their projected earnings over 20 years with their planned degree, along with the projected total student loan debt. If they want to rack up a quarter of a million dollars in debt so they can get a Ph.D. in Womyn’s Studies with a minor in Far Eastern Art History, they better have a plan to pay that back.

 

Third, colleges will be informed that if their fees and tuition increase by, say, twice the inflation rate, they better not expect to get government guarantees for student loans. As so many have noted, the increased availability of government money for education has pretty much only increased the cost of college, as the schools have simply jacked up their charges to take advantage of the freer flow of money. This has mainly gone into administrative costs — very little trickles down to the students. I mean, how many Senior Associate Deans For Diversity do we need?

 

I’m noticing a trend here in regards to education. At the elementary and secondary levels, there almost seems to be an inverse relationship between the amount of money spent and the quality of the education. Going by the SATs and other standardized tests, the states that spend the most are among the worst, while those that spend far less get far more “bang for their buck.” Similarly, it seems the more we spend on college education, the more it all costs and the less we seem to get for it.

 

Maybe this is one of those counterintuitive situations that seem to crop up so much: perhaps if we spent less money on college education, and started paying far more attention to just where that money is going, we might actually get better results.

 

On the other hand, though, perhaps we should just let things keep going the way they are. After all, it’s only government money here, and the government has plenty. And if they need more, they can always print more…

 

(cue argument for why “Economics 101″ should be a required course in all colleges, if not high schools)

 

Finally, we need a resurgence in trade schools, preferably at the expense of the liberal arts. All around the country well-paying jobs are going begging because there aren’t enough Americans who know how to do things, especially with their hands. How many sociologists does it take to replace a toilet? How many Gender Studies majors does it take to run a chem lab? The answer is “I dunno; we could use all of ‘em, and it wouldn’t get done.” The expanse of liberal arts education has come at the expense of those “lesser” programs, as more and more people decide they’re too good to do such menial tasks — and then find out that the real world isn’t interested in paying them for “being so smart.”

 

Will this make it all better? Oh, hell no. Is it even guaranteed to work? You gotta be kidding. But it seems to be to be better than continuing the current craziness.

 

 

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  • Anonymous

    You forgot an important element:  Make student loans dischargeable in bankruptcy.  

    • Anonymous

      No offense, chum, but SCREW THAT. Do that, and watch nearly every single new graduate file for bankruptcy right after graduation. Maybe with some restrictions, but as a wholesale “get out of debt free” card? No freaking way.

      J.

      • Anonymous

        Wrong!  Filing for bankruptcy is not nearly as easy as that, Jay Tea, and it carries serious repercussions for a person who does it. 

        But let me put it to you another way, Jay Tea.

        Ever get a car loan?  Or do you have a credit card?  When a bank extends you credit, it takes the risk that you won’t be able to repay it and that the debt will be discharged in bankruptcy. 

        Student-loan lenders, meanwhile, have that risk reduced, if not outright eliminated, in exchange for a willingness to extend the loans willy-nilly and the fantastically low interest rate set by Uncle Sam.

        On the other hand, if those loans are dichargeable, perhaps lenders will lend less of that money in the long term … and perhaps that woudl put downward pressure on college costs. 

        • Anonymous

          You know there are ways to repay financial support for education with service through uniformed services (which includes the Public Health Service for you with phobias of firearms), civilian programs, and so on.  Especially with Trade Schools, this could be a boost for infrastructure repair/rebuild.

          • Anonymous

            That is one way, Epador, and there is some student-loan repayment available for individuals who simply enter federal government service. But there are two issues here:

            1) There are limited billets available for people in these positions. I fail to see the merit in opening up more slots in order to help more students pay off their student loans.

            2) This displaces student loan costs to taxpayers, a scenario I find even less desirable than outright student-loan forgiveness.
            My point: I want lenders to assume more risk. If you choose to loan $100k+ to somebody pursuing graduate studies in early 16th century Flemish literature, then you should bear more of the risk that this person cannot repay his or her loan.

        • http://www.rustedsky.net Anonymous

          Perhaps.

          But I think it more likely that the educational freeloaders would grab loans, go play for 4 years at getting something worthwhile (like Womyn’s Studies and Issues on the Antarctic Continent Between 1973 to 1994) and then go directly to the local courts and file bankrupcy after graduation. 

        • retired.military

          There should be no student loans period (from the govt).    College tuition will then plummet and maybe we can start getting things back on the right track instead of keeping a bunch of folks employed who have nothing to do with the education part of the education process.

          There are other ways to get money for college.  The military provides plenty of college opportunities.

          • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_IZ5BM5GNLA54OADSWGSXAMA7SY Jay

            Ironically, that’s still money from the government…

    • Anonymous

      I believe that’s one of the Flea Party Planks.

  • Anonymous

    Will we then have Department of Education directed swat teams busting down doors in the middle of the night, looking for student loan scofflaws?…. 

    Oh wait, thats already happened.

    http://www.theroot.com/buzz/unpaid-student-loan-leads-swat-team-raid

    Semper Fidelis-

  • Anonymous

    This raid was a direct result of taking away the student loan business from private companies and giving it to the government to run.  You’d never see a swat raid for alleged student loan fraud if private businesses were still running the program.

    Next up, will there be no-knock raids in the middle of the night for alleged scofflaws scamming Government run Health care???  

    Mark my words – this is dangerous stuff… sooner or later there will be beat downs or gun battles over it, when the armed-to-the-teeth enforcers meet some irate or scared to death citizen in the dark of the night… and the swat team got the wrong address (as they inevitably do).

    If we give them the power, is there anything government can’t do?

    Semper Fidelis-

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2D6ZSMLE4IR6GLOU4PV26FGHLA Tom Gaskin

    getting the government out of the student loan business would solve the problem.

    • Anonymous

      Yes Tom it would… but the opposite just happened.  Our government just took over the student loan business… and this is a direct result of that!

  • Anonymous

    Colleges and Universities aren’t interested in ‘education’.  They’re money mills.  The elite intellegensia – most dumb as bricks – get to walk around all day, impressing each other with their titles.  Follow them around and see how much ‘work’ they do in one day.  How many of the Ivy League schools have BILLION dollar investment portfolios – yet think nothing of jacking up rates each year.  Part of the “prestige” of going is being able to brag about how much you paid.

    • http://www.rustedsky.net Anonymous

      Snob appeal.  It doesn’t matter what the kids actually learn, what matters is the size of the bill you can pay.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_IZ5BM5GNLA54OADSWGSXAMA7SY Jay

      Statistically speaking, getting a degree from any 4 year degree college vs the prestigious Ivy leagues carries roughly the same chances of getting a job.

  • Anonymous

    If some burly dudes bust down my door at 2AM, shouting “police.”  Who am I going to believe… my lying eyes… or my lying ears.  Me?  I’m going to be defending my family, at all cost. 

    Whatever happened to the police showing up in their tri-quarter hats and knocking on your door in the middle of the afternoon like civilized folk?

    And all for what?  A problem with student loans from the previous tenant… or even your neighbor next door one correct address digit away??? WTF!

    Semper Fidelis-

  • Anonymous

    Bruce:

    I don’t have a link handy, but if I recall the story, the Ed Department put out the warrant not because the woman was behind on her payments, but because she had committed some form of criminal fraud involving student loans.  And the home raided was the last address they had on file for her.

    • Anonymous

      JWH, you are right of course, the charge on the warrant says alleged fraud… but, we’re still talking about student loan fraud here.  My point still stands, is that reason enough for a government swat team to be busting down your home’s door, armed with automatic weapons at 2 AM???.. to serve a warrant for someone’s arrest?  Turns out the fraudster hadn’t lived there for a while, and hadn’t been seen by her family in a long time.  And the poor father who was present (and not on the warrant) was dragged out in pajamas and handcuffed in his front yard – in front of his terrified kids.  And his front door is now bashed in too.  Talk about having a bad day.

      I’m not winning any friends by belaboring the point… but the tactics engaged in to try and capture suspects for what is essentially petty fraud seems pretty draconian to me.  And remember its all being done in your name.  Its a government directed action, in this case by the Department of Education.  We never saw this kinda state heavy handedness when private companies ran the Student Loan business. Fraud or no fraud.

      Semper Fidelis-

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_IZ5BM5GNLA54OADSWGSXAMA7SY Jay

        Link

        The Department of Education bought shotguns…

        While going after this man’s wife for the student loan. This story really needs an update.

  • Lisa

    Student loan providers should have the ability to decline to provide loans to students with a declared  major with little to no demand (e.g. “studies” degrees; art history).  It’s no different than what other lenders do when evaluating an entrepreneur’s business plan.  If the lender thinks your business plan is not likely to be successful – no loan.  You can still open your dream business, but you have to find other funding sources.  Student loans should operate the same way.  But if they did, can you hear the cries of discrimination for refusing to loan on the Middle French literature degree while providing funding for an accounting degree?

  • http://www.facebook.com/michael.laprarie Michael Laprarie

    JayTea, I like your ideas 2 & 3. 

    It’s frustrating to see universities with multi-billion dollar endowments spend the money on luxury dorms, sports complexes, performing arts centers, etc. or on super-star coaches or celebrity visiting professors, instead of keeping tuition costs under control or providing generous scholarships to students.  Right now tuition costs are rising at a far greater rate than medical costs.  I agree with you – if a school is raising their tuition annually at a rate greater than 2x inflation, no guaranteed loans.

    I also think we need to start teaching students about the consequences of student loan debt, just like we have been teaching them about the consequences of credit card debt.  Students should think about how much money they will earn once they have graduated, vs. how much their bachelors degree will cost.  They should also be informed by their advisers about the most common career paths of students pursuing particular degrees.  Many degrees prepare students for professional careers.  Other degrees are designed for students who plan to stay in academia and pursue a PhD, and then remain on a university faculty.  (Most liberal arts and humanities degrees fall in that category).  Students who do not want to remain in the academic system should be discouraged from getting a degree that does not provide good job placement.  That’s not a “diss” of liberal arts or humanities programs, it is just simple common sense.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_IZ5BM5GNLA54OADSWGSXAMA7SY Jay

      Not to open a can of worms, but the sports complexes are a huge business in their own right.  Think about the scholarships for athletes to compete in a school.  And the school makes money on the athletic ability of a performer, who makes nothing in those 4 years.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2D6ZSMLE4IR6GLOU4PV26FGHLA Tom Gaskin

    I wish someone would publish a better set of guidelines for school quality.

    Using criteria such as graduation rate in 6 years and gift giving is of no consequence for a small state school where many attendees need to work there way through (6+ years), run out of money or get married, and never make enough money to contribute to an endowment.
    Research dollars matter for a PhD, but for most undergraduates, so what. 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2D6ZSMLE4IR6GLOU4PV26FGHLA Tom Gaskin

    there = their
    darn private school education

  • herddog505

    1. Eliminate federal funding for higher education, including subsidies for student loans.  If somebody wants to go to college, let him either save for it or get some other private citizen(s) such as his parents, a charity, etc. to pay for it.  Lisa‘s suggestion above about allowing loan providers to decline to pay for a degree in Underwater Basket Weaving is also excellent.

    2.  Eliminate at least 50% of the state colleges / universities (you can’t swing a dead cat in No. Carolina without hitting a state school).  Increase the academic requirements to get into those schools such that admittance to one is a competition, not a back-up plan.

    3.  Cut spending in the state systems to eliminate “Club Med” facilities, athletic departments, and anything else that doesn’t directly contribute to academics.  SEVERELY reduce the non-teaching staff; how many “assistant deans” does a college need???  I even suggest eliminating student dorms: students should make their own housing provisions if they don’t live at home.

    The emphasis should be on more market-oriented solutions, which will tend to eliminate the fat and give more bang for the buck.  Sure, there will be those PRIVATE schools that offer worthless degrees, Club Med campuses, etc., but without Uncle Sugar forking out billions to pay for them, they will become increasingly few and far between.

    Ditto the ridiculous “studies” majors that have been cropping up.  It strikes me that a kid who’s had to work his a** off to get good grades to get into a state school, who’s had to save and scrape to afford to be able to go, who has learned early about paying the rent on time and keeping the ‘fridge stocked, will be disinclined to waste his time on a worthless degree.  “Man, this college thing is costing me out the a**!  I need a degree that will help me get a good job when I graduate, NOT some bullsh*t that nobody other than the professor and that hippie trust fund kid on the third floor cares about.”

  • Anonymous

    A long time ago, back when there were still debates about the drinking age, and back when I still cared about the drinking age, I heard a guy on the radio that said something that really pissed me off.  I remember what he said because he pissed me off.

    Some one asked him why it was fair that an 18 yo could be drafted and killed but he had to wait until he was 21 to drink.  His answer was — because the very same thing that makes an 18 yo a good soldier makes them a bad drinker– they just don’t get the idea behind their own mortality, and they take poorly considered risks.  Well, now I get it why he said what he did.

    So, what does this have to do with the subject at hand?  Our country has systematically been abusing our children by telling 18 yo’s that every one of them had to go to college and that “Hey, here is all this money set aside for you to borrow for your education.”  These kids still have no real idea about their own mortality (in this case, what it is really like to carry college debt for a couple decades) and they still take poorly considered risks (like running up huge debts to take classes in economically useless shit).

    It would have been less abusive if we had decided to beat them all soundly with iron pipes.  After some weeks or months, they would have recovered from the beatings.  Instead, the negative effects of their ridiculous piles of debt will last for many, many years. (And we are stupid enough to think they will be able to pay our SS and Medicare, too.)

    Worse than that, we gave them absolute shit for guidance.  A bunch of classes in “repeat your instructor’s idiotic leftist opinions” is not an education, but it does cost the same and the debt will last just as long.

    Then we doubled down on the abuse by doing absolutely nothing to control the inflation in the market we caused by flooding it with unsupervised cash.  In short, we let a bunch of useless leftist jackasses essentially defraud a bunch of kids that were too young to know what was happening to them.  Now they will be slaves to the debt for a long time, and if they admit to themselves what actually happened to them they will hate us for it, and I won’t really blame them.

    Personally, I am ashamed of our country for doing that to our young.  It really was a very shitty thing to do.

  • Anonymous

    One problem is the math–that is, the math of a bachelor degree.  It used to be 96 credit hours for a bachelor degree–12 credits (4 classes) per semester for 8 semesters.  And using the old rule of thumb that a student should study 3 hours for every hour of class time, that’s 36 hours of study plus 12 hours of class/week = 48 hours a week. Add to that a part-time job of 20 hors/week, and that’s a 68-hour work week. It’s tough, but doable.

    But now the requirement is over 120 credits–15 credits (5 classes) per semester for 8 semesters.  So, we’re talking 15 hours of class/week plus 45 hours of study time = 60 hours/week. Now add to that a 20-hour/week job, and now we’re talking an 80-hour work week. Is it any wonder kids can’t graduate in 4 years?

    Require public colleges to pare down the degree requirements back to 96 credits, or no fed financial aid.  There’s no reason students should be going to school for 6 years and end up with a bachelor degree.

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