It’s not the money

John Kerry’s service-for-tuition idea wouldn’t send more low-income students to college, writes Jay P. Greene in National Review.

John Kerry recently unveiled his plan to make college more affordable. His “Service for College” initiative would offer students free college tuition in exchange for two years of public service doing things like teaching in urban public schools or working on homeland security. Kerry hopes this plan will make college more accessible to those who otherwise would have a tough time paying the bills, particularly low-income minority students.

Unfortunately, while it may be desirable to engage more young people in public service, Kerry’s plan is unlikely to significantly increase the number of students who enroll in college. Contrary to popular belief, the evidence indicates that the cost of tuition prevents very few students from pursuing a college degree. The problem isn’t that students can’t afford college — it’s that not enough students possess the academic qualifications necessary even to apply. This cannot be fixed through better financing for tuition: It requires reforming K-12 education.

Although Kerry voted for No Child Left Behind, he now rejects high-stakes testing as well as school choice, Greene writes. That leaves him with an education policy that’s based on spending more money with less accountability for results.

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  1. Seems someones trying really hard to quality control the assembly line schooling they envision.

    Taking into account that no two people truly learn at the same rate, and that some will never be able to comprehend some things seems someone in Washington forgot that people, children especially are not machines that are all the same, predictable, and easy to guage by some trumped up litmus test.

  2. Richard Brandshaft says:

    “the evidence indicates that the cost of tuition prevents very few students from pursuing a college degree.”

    Consider the source: The National Review.

    In a previous item, someone mentioned that 80% of students who take calculus in high school go on to college. Before we rule out financial hardship, I would like to know what happened to the other 20%.

  3. Richard Cook says:

    I’ve been around for awhile and have heard very few stories of “I couldn’t afford college”. In my college career (5 colleges) I ran into quite a number of folks that were marking time and were from middle to lower middle class families. How did they do it? I wonder if the NR article includes those who couln’t afford to go, worked a few years for college money, then went and completed the degree. I think the “I couldn’t afford to go to college” statement is a little too pat. I couldn’t afford college either. Joined the Navy, completed two years of college while I was in, finished the last two after active got good grades, got picked up as a HUD fellow and didn’t spend a dime for Graduate school (excepting housing).

  4. “I would like to know what happened to the other 20%.” I don’t know, but I’ve got a few theories that could account for many of them:

    — Went into the Armed Services. Went to college later (or decided that a career as a sergeant/petty officer suited them).

    — Got arrested for drugs, and lacking family connections wound up with a conviction that prevents them from getting financial aid. Ah well, we can always use more janitors that are capable of estimating toilet paper usage…

    — 13 years of school was all they wanted, and they’re now starting their own business. Hopefully, not selling illegal drugs.

  5. Walter Wallis says:

    In spite of the rhetoric, I can think of no examples in my 72 years of life when an education to the extent of one’s ability, medical care and food was not available somewhere. Salinas hates Steinbeck because he “exagerated” the Oakie plight.
    For those unwilling to exert any effort for an education there are always the diploma mills.

  6. I couldn’t afford to go to college.

    My father, a wealthy man, went to court to fight against giving any money for college for my brother and myself. My mother, a nurse, made $28,000 a year. Tuition inflation in the 1980s and 1990s tripled the cost of my education. I got into good schools, but couldn’t even afford one year of the state university.

    In the end, my mother and I went deeply in debt so that I could attend a good college. I worked summers, bought used books and clothes, and applied for scholarships. Sometimes I even starved for a while. I sometimes think I was the only graduate student in history whose living situation improved on a graduate stipend.

    10 years later, I have a Ph.D. in economics. I also have a $65,000 student loan debt, mostly from undergrad.

    Something like Kerry’s program would have helped me, and also many other students I have met in similar situations.

    Don’t you think this country will have a better future if poor children with brains and talent have a shot at a college education, not just those who won out in the parent lottery?

  7. Andy Freeman says:

    Erica claims that she couldn’t afford to go to college, yet she has a PhD, so clearly the claim is false.

    It may be that she thinks her education isn’t worth the money she paid or still owes. If that’s the case, why does she think that other people should have paid for it?

  8. Richard Cook says:


    You just contradicted yourself. Congratulations.

  9. I couldn’t afford to go to college. To rephrase, I couldn’t have come up with the money to attend college without a good deal of help.

    For the first two years relatives and family friends borrowed and lent the money to help me cover costs.

    After the first two years, it becomes easier for students to borrow money for college, and I could assume more of the burden on myself.

    It’s foolish to pretend that every smart child has parents or friends who are willing to make these sacrifices for them. Many kids I went to school with were just as clever as I was, but their parents weren’t willing to either save money for them to go to college, or help them shoulder the debt in those first few years when it’s harder to borrow the money yourself.