Should college aid be linked to readiness?

Pell Grants help low- and moderate-income students go to college, but graduation rates are low. Should Pell dollars be targeted at college-ready students? That would lower the college-going rate significantly.

A new private scholarship fund will help “dreamers” — undocumented immigrants brought here as children — attend low-cost colleges to pursue work-oriented degrees.

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  1. Roger Sweeny says:

    A cynic might suggest we go the other way. Make the first year of school free for anyone who can’t get into a selective college, and encourage everyone to go. Lots of people will hate it and/or do poorly and not come back for a second year.

    Then for the rest of their lives, they can be told, “Of course, you have few prospects. You didn’t finish college!” A cheap way to buy social peace. After all, isn’t this a major effect of college today?

  2. Let’s consider the reverse: should we ignore readiness when awarding college aid? that sure doesn’t sound like a useful proposition. Maybe if we ignore readiness, we will end up having to do what many other countries do: be very bossy about what type of higher education an individual may sign up for. France is having to reconsider its free college for all who want it, for as long as they want it policy as we speak.

  3. One crazy idea might be to link college readiness to college admission…

    • Yes, back to the old days, including freshman weeder courses to remove the unmotivated before they (a) waste their own time and money – double that if taxpayer money is involved or (b) infect others with the same attitude. Doing that would (1) decrease the need for diversity and academic support staff , (2) require fewer faculty and facilities and (3) reduce the need for beer-and-circus style activities for those who are unable or unwilling to do serious academic work. If we operated like Oxford and Cambridge and admitted by test scores only (SAT/ACT here), we could also eliminate lots of admissions staff.

    • +47. Nice.

    • Sigh. Joanne, I don’t like this comments system. Is there some interface that makes it look better? Anyway, the +47 was to Mark Roulo’s brilliant aside.

  4. Bryan Caplan over at Econlog had a post on a recent study that supports this premise. The “bad” students in his parlance don’t have much to gain from college if they can’t overcome the odds they’ll not graduate. The college premium accrues upon graduation. Fail to graduate and you get far less return and a whole lot of debt.

    What Bad Students Know that Good Economists Don’t
    Bryan Caplan

    “If instead you’re at the 25th-percentile of high school graduates, your probability of graduating college if you enroll is around 20%. When the college premium ascends from 50% to 70%, your expected premium goes from 10% to 14%. In plain English, the payoff goes from really crummy to crummy. Either way, non-enrollment is a no-brainer… especially when you dwell on the fact that colleges don’t refund drop-outs’ tuition, much less the earnings and work experience they forfeited to attend.”

    Linking grant money to readiness would go a long way to stopping colleges from taking advantage of those with low probability of graduating. Good news is, the damage of a progressive education can now be overcome by many by catching up through Khan Academy.

  5. Jerry Doctor says:

    This is VERY dangerous thinking. What if the idea of only spending money when there was a chance it could help spread to the rest of the budget? You think it was easy getting 17 trillion dollars in debt??? We’ll never make it to 20 trillion if ideas like this are allowed to take hold!