Government reaches out to SNAP-Eligible Citizens to Apply for Benefits
Lying on Resumes Reaching Epidemic Proportions

What should we make of President Obama’s Proposal to Rate Colleges to Curb Tuition Costs?

Obama’s Ideas are misguided and poorly conceived

A draft of the proposal, obtained by The New York Times and likely to cause some consternation among colleges, shows a plan to rate colleges before the 2015 school year based on measures like tuition, graduation rates, debt and earnings of graduates, and the percentage of lower-income students who attend. The ratings would compare colleges against their peer institutions. If the plan can win Congressional approval, the idea is to base federal financial aid to students attending the colleges partly on those rankings.  

This is a terrible idea for a number of reasons. First, as many people know, statistics can be made to show whatever the institution presenting them wants to show. I’ve been a college professor long enough to know many colleges and universities will circumvent the standards by charging hidden fees instead of tuition increases, lowering standards and graduating more students, falsifying debt and earnings information of graduates or leaving off the list those graduates who have not been productive members of society, and either falsifying the number of low-income students who attend or admitting unqualified students thereby watering down the standards.

The most ridiculous part of the proposal is it must create a bureaucracy to audit the data to make sure the “right” amount of money is going to each institution. Once again, I can tell you from past experiences that wading through college costs and sources of revenue data are somewhat like reading the Amish bible.

As the saying goes, the devil is in the details. Does President Obama believe the Government Accountability Office should do the auditing? This is the same group that missed lavish parties at the DCAA and abuses of taxpayer funds at other federal agencies, and it had no clue about what was going on at the IRS. Does he expect states to monitor institutions?  Well, they don’t have the funds to do the job and they can’t even manage their state’s finances.

President Obama’s idea is another example of the federal government run amok. First, it wants to control our health-care decisions and that has affected the health care industry and businesses that view part-time hiring as more favorable than full-time and may drop spouses from coverage under employer-funded insurance policies. Now, it is the educational institutions and how we spend money and meet goals that are better set by accrediting agencies.

Why does the government always believe it has the answers for how to make a better life for its citizens? Have increased welfare payments, lower SNAP eligibility and payments, Medicare coverage and other social welfare programs helped to build a better society or opportunities for people that would not be there otherwise? If so, why do we have such a high unemployment rate more than five years since the recession began and crime committed by “bored” youngsters?

I realize it is easy to criticize but hard to suggest reasonable alternatives so here are my ideas that are designed as food for thought and further discussion. Student loans are a big problem in the U.S. primarily because the repayment and default rates are high and increasing. It’s hard to pay back a college loan when you are unemployed or under-employed.

The U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics released a new report this month on the financial aid paid to American college students. In the 2011-2012 school year, the federal government provided 71.4 percent of full-time college students with some form of taxpayer-funded aid for their education averaging $10,500 a school year. According to the National Center on Education Statistics, the average annual cost of tuition, room, and board for all two-year colleges was $8,734. These are the bases for my proposal.

Here is my idea. Why not simply give a grant to all college-age students of $10,000 a year that would not be repayable and conditioned on the student going to at least a two-year college? The payments would be for two years only. If the student wants to continue on and get a four-year degree, he or she picks up those costs, applies for federal aid, or gets a job. The two-year degree would provide the educational foundation necessary to make a four-year degree happen. Students who choose vocational training instead can get it without going into debt.  Retraining education would also be available to those who want it. In other words, as a country we should set a priority of guaranteeing a two-year college education for all American students who want it. In many other countries college costs are paid by the government in part or full, albeit based on entry exams or other factors. Of course, systems would have to be in place to monitor compliance with the rules, but they are far less intrusive than President Obama’s proposal.

Investing $10,000 a year to pay for college for each American who chooses to go is an investment in our future. Moreover, it is a good way to stimulate the economy because we are providing the education and skills to be employable and contribute to the betterment of society. Sure, my plan can be criticized but not on a fairness level. Every student gets the same amount and it is designed to provide what should be considered today as the minimum education for all Americans to be productive members of society. We encourage them to go to college and better their lives.

Finally, I can tell you first hand that the education skills and talents of pre-college students today who enter four-year colleges from high school are generally lacking and it takes a two-year degree to bring them up to speed. So, today’s two-year colleges provide what high school education provided in the past. Whether this is due to failing grade-school education and a dumbing-down of standards, broken families and lack of parental involvement, poor learning skills, or even the Internet and social media is a topic for another blog.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on August 26, 2013