A week or so ago President Obama was on a two-day bus trip across New York and Pennsylvania, this time campaigning for affordable college education in an attempt to shame colleges into easing costs. Apparently Obama thinks a college education is necessary for a good job, therefore a fundamental right. According to Obama, college just costs too much for everyone to afford.
When speaking at the University at Buffalo Obama said:
Colleges are not going to just be able to keep on increasing tuition year after year and passing it on to students. We can't price the middle class and everybody working to get into the middle class out of college.
A big part of President Obama's plan includes the creation of a college rating system which amounts to a federal scorecard to evaluate colleges on measures such as graduation rates, the number of low-income students served -- i.e. the percentage of Pell Grant recipients -- graduate earnings, and affordability. As the Morning Bell of The Heritage Foundation indicated in an article on August 23 by Lindsey Burke: Scorecards are a seductive idea. But having the federal government issue scorecards to measure college output would be a mistake.
Burke's article goes on to explain the four problems with the President's plan: 1) Government says what' best; 2) Special-interest institutions with more clout could shape the standards; 3) Standard-setters would also control college funding giving larger Pell grants and lower student loan interest rates to students who enroll in colleges that fare well on the federal scorecard; 4) We already have scorecards by such outlets as U.S. News & World Report, Forbes, and Kiplinger's.
As Representative John Kline, Republican of Minnesota and the chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce remarked in a statement skeptical of the President's proposed rating system:
I remain concerned that imposing an arbitrary college ranking system could entail the very innovation we hope to encourage -- and even lead to federal price controls. As always the devil is always in the details.
The benefits of a college education are not in dispute, although it's hard to know how many more political science majors the country needs, or sociologists, or lawyers. That college costs are rising at a rate three times that of general inflation is another problem. To a large extent, this inflation is fueled by the nearly unlimited amount available through government grants and student loans. There is an increasing tendency to provide more perks, such as recreation centers, in order to attract the best (and presumably the richest) students. All of these things increase the cost of a college education.
The Democrat-liberal philosophy is to make sure that everyone can get low interest rate loans to get into colleges. Student loans are kind of special. Once committed, you can't negotiate the terms, refinance, or even escape through bankruptcy. The interest rate is a matter of public policy, not subject to competition amongst financial institutions, and recently doubled (with a temporary reprieve) to help pay for the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), but blamed on the Republicans.
This leave several questions unanswered. Is a college education necessary to make a good living? It helps, but skilled tradesmen (no gender typecasting intended) can make even more, especially after the cost of student debt is considered. There aren't nearly enough auto mechanics, electricians, plumbers, carpenters or computer technicians to go around.
With 30% of the adult population having college degrees, while the Department of Labor tells us that only 20% or so of jobs require college degrees, is it any wonder why there are 115,520 janitors in the United States with bachelor's degrees or more? At the same time the President seems to hold vocational schools in low regard.
Is a college education a fundamental right? Perhaps, in the Socialist handbook. The President holds the European system in high regard, first in health care, now in education. Throughout most of Europe, Japan, and until recently in Great Britain, a college education cost the student little or nothing.
A private college in Germany costs about $50 per month, but public college is free. The catch is, not everybody can go to college.
The same public education in Germany is free for everyone to the equivalent of eighth or ninth grade, at which time students are subject to comprehensive testing and evaluation. Approximately 28% are directed to advanced academics, known as Gymnasiums, leading to a baccalaureate degree. The majority of students are sent to vocational school, where they learn various trades, including professional photography and other services. You can't, as a rule, cast yourself as a professional photographer without a trade certificate (not every profession is ruined by amateurs). After Gymnasium, colleges grant advanced degrees, for research, but primarily for teaching in colleges and gymnasiums.
Needless to say, education is highly competitive in these countries. How would that work in the United States, where half the high school graduates are functionally illiterate (freshman English is largely a remedial course)?
The President is not really speaking along those terms, however. He wants to make higher education affordable through a combination of price controls and public subsidies for EVERYONE. He says he can do this with the stroke of his pen, with or without the approval of our "do nothing" Congress. To others, this teeters precariously on the edge of impeachment, which is another matter.
Assuming Obama is successful, it is unlikely that Europe will be tapping our "best and brightest" for their industries, but we will see an increased demand for foreign engineers and scientists to develop our gadgets. That's nothing new, because the highest calling is for social "scientists," to run our schools, and errands for our politicians.
What a legacy! After messing up our financial institutions, manufacturing industry, energy production and health care, the President is going after our one last hope for the future - education. We could do so much better, if only he would let us.
Ultimately the way to improve college affordability is for the government to disinvest in higher education and wean students from subsidies. This doesn't seems likely with Obama at the helm.