College aid fails without incentives

Seeing college as an entitlement, many students slack off in high school, take remedial courses in college and never finish a degree, writes Jackson Toby, an emeritus Rutgers sociology professor, on Minding the Campus.

. . .  most of the responsibility for the relatively low rate of college graduation compared with enrollment is a result of misleading students and their parents into thinking that merely attending college will lead to well-paid and interesting jobs without pointing out that mere attendance is not enough. Students need to learn something at college.

Federal grants and loans are handed out with no regard for academic performance, encouraging entitlement thinking, he writes. To encourage students to work hard in primary and secondary school and college, student loans should be available only to low-income students with good academic performance.

However, Pell Grants should not be limited to good students, Toby argues.

(Grants) do not burden students with debts that they may not be able to repay and they do not burden the economy with complex financial instruments that can produce a credit crisis. Moreover, student grants that ignore academic merit are appealing as an expression of society’s interest in making higher education available even to students who have not done well in high school.

He suggests Pell Grants to poorly prepared students come with a warning that their college success is uncertain and an offer of remedial help in college. Toby envisions federally funded remedial classes for Pell Grant recipients who seek help. Those who reject help would be ineligible for student loans, which most low-income students need to complete a degree.

Toby thinks this would inspire students to work harder in school. I think it might turn B- students into B students, but I’m not sure the message would get through to C and D students. Students with poorly educated parents often have no sense of how well they need to read, write or calculate in order to pass college classes. If they’re passed along in allegedly college-prep classes in high school, they think they’re good to go to college. (Some think a D average in the easiest possible classes is good enough.) Telling students they’re on the remedial track at the age of 18 isn’t much help.

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  1. Taxpayer money should not be spent on college loans or grants to unprepared students; academics (documented by SAT, SAT II, AP/IB scores) should be the determining factor. The k-12 system is already in the delusion business, with watered-down coursework, inflated grades and little work ethic and colleges are on the same path. If you aren’t capable of serious college-level coursework, you should not be admitted. No remediation at the college level. Get any kind of job, take night-HS remedial work, start at a CC and prove academic readiness and work ethic; then apply for loans or grants.

  2. tim-10-ber says:

    I have to agree with Momof4. The problem starts with the K-12 system, grade inflation, low expectations, low cut scores, no one willing to tell the truth about how a child is really performing and what they need to do to do better. College should not allow them any slack…

    Mom of two in college…yikes!