Vedder: College aid should reward achievement

Federal college aid should reward achievement, argues economist Richard Vedder. The expansion of federal aid has “contributed to high dropout rates, mediocre levels of student work effort and academic performance,” underemployment for college graduates and credential inflation, Vedder believes.

Indiana may tie college aid to state exam

Students will have to pass Indiana’s graduation exam to qualify for state-funded college aid under a bill moving through the Legislature, reports the Indianapolis Star. Those at risk of failing the state exam will be offered remedial courses in 12th grade.

Students can graduate without passing the exam by getting a waiver. More than a quarter of Indianapolis Public Schools graduates needed waivers to earn diplomas last year, reports the Star.

“The bill is intended to break a cycle in which a student achieves a high school diploma, enrolls in a college, is given a placement exam and then told they need remediation,” said Dan Clark, executive director of the Education Roundtable. “Then they must use their financial aid to pay for it.”

. . .  “Sometimes they go into debt to pay for these courses,” Clark said, “and the evidence is clear very few students who have this cycle ever graduate from an institution of higher education.”

Older students enrolling in college would have to pass placement tests to qualify for state aid under the bill. “I’m worried that this is one more road block,”said Jeff Terp, a senior vice president at Ivy Tech Community College.

The bill’s advocates say students should catch up on basic skills in high school or in adult education courses, rather than taking remedial courses in college.

National servants

Let’s Draft Our Kids, writes Thomas Ricks, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security, in a New York Times op-ed. His goal is to discourage wars by putting the children of the powerful at risk  – and to provide cheap labor for the government.

A revived draft, including both males and females, should include three options for new conscripts coming out of high school. Some could choose 18 months of military service with low pay but excellent post-service benefits, including free college tuition. These conscripts would not be deployed but could perform tasks currently outsourced at great cost to the Pentagon: paperwork, painting barracks, mowing lawns, driving generals around, and generally doing lower-skills tasks so professional soldiers don’t have to. If they want to stay, they could move into the professional force and receive weapons training, higher pay and better benefits.

Actually, mowing lawns or pushing paper on an Army base — with no chance of deployment — isn’t “military” service and won’t put anyone’s kids at risk. The military already uses civilian workers for many routine jobs to avoid wasting the time of highly trained soldiers.

Those who don’t want to serve in the army could perform civilian national service for a slightly longer period and equally low pay — teaching in low-income areas, cleaning parks, rebuilding crumbling infrastructure, or aiding the elderly. After two years, they would receive similar benefits like tuition aid.

Teaching in low-income areas!?! These are teen-age conscripts with no training. For that matter, rebuilding infrastructure? With no training?

And libertarians who object to a draft could opt out. Those who declined to help Uncle Sam would in return pledge to ask nothing from him — no Medicare, no subsidized college loans and no mortgage guarantees. Those who want minimal government can have it.

Many Americans would pledge to take only minimal government help in exchange for minimal taxes, but that’s probably not what Ricks has in mind.

The high cost of finding some sort of work for unskilled 18-year-olds would be offset by providing a “pool of cheap labor” which could be loaned to states and cities, he argues. Ricks imagines unions would let $15,000-a-year (plus room and board) teen custodians do work otherwise performed by professional custodians earning $106,329, the top base salary in New York City. Those construction workers who’d otherwise be rebuilding infrastructure wouldn’t mind if draftees took their jobs.

Even if it were fair to “put millions of innocent people in involuntary servitude so that their parents would become politically active, it won’t work, writes David Henderson. Conscription won’t reduce support for war.

Neediest students will lose federal aid

People who lack a high school diploma or GED will lose college aid eligibility on July 1. Currently, they can prove their “ability to benefit” from college classes by passing a test of earning six college credits. The new federal budget cuts aid to these students to save Pell Grant money.

Community colleges are cutting programs, such as sports teams and enrichment classes, to save money.

Obama: Raise tuition and lose federal aid

College affordability was the theme of President Obama’s speech at the University of Michigan yesterday. He called for spending more on Perkins loans and work-study programs — going from $3 billion now to $10 billion  – but only at colleges and universities that provide “value.” Students at colleges that raise tuition could lose access to loans and work-study jobs.

In addition, the president’s plan (pdf) includes a $1 billion “Race to the Top for college affordability” and a $55 million “First in the World” competition to encourage productivity innovations, reports the Washington Post.

Higher education — including community colleges and lifelong learning for workers — is “an economic imperative,” Obama said. While he proposed increasing tuition tax credits and keeping interest rates low on student loans, he said that’s not enough. “Look, we can’t just keep on subsidizing skyrocketing tuition.”

So from now on, I’m telling Congress we should steer federal campus-based aid to those colleges that keep tuition affordable, provide good value, serve their students well.  (Applause.)  . . . If you can’t stop tuition from going up, then the funding you get from taxpayers each year will go down.

If “provide good value” and “serve their students well” means anything, it means the federal government will monitor graduation rates and employment outcomes, as well as tuition, for the entire higher education sector. Currently, “gainful employment” rules, which monitor former students’ earnings and ability to pay back loans, cover only for-profit colleges and community college vocational programs.

 Following the speech, Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education, issued a statement saying there’s concern that the proposal would “move decision-making in higher education from college campuses to Washington, D.C.”

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., a former education secretary, said the autonomy of U.S. higher education is what makes it the best in the world, and he’s questioned whether Obama can enforce any plan that shifts federal aid away from colleges and universities without hurting students.

“It’s hard to do without hurting students, and it’s not appropriate to do,” Alexander said. “The federal government has no business doing this.”

President Obama also touted college “report cards” showing college costs and how well graduates do in the job market.

The U.S. Education Department and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau are working on Know Before You Owe, a financial aid shopping sheet that will let future students estimate their debt, monthly payment and likely ability to repay loans. Parents and students also have requested a breakdown of college costs and information on repayment rates for graduates at each college.

California dreaming

California’s Dream Act, which offers state aid to undocumented college students, passed the Legislature on Friday; Gov. Jerry Brown is expected to sign the bill.

High school graduates with three or more years in California could apply for Cal Grants, which pay for tuition, fees, books and living expenses for lower-income students.

Assemblyman Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, introduced the bill and said that it is necessary to ensure that California has an educated workforce in the future, including students who didn’t come to the country by their own choice but excelled in school.

“We will need them for our future, for our position in the global economy,” he said. “We don’t have one student to spare.”

Democrats passed the bill on a party-line vote.

The bill is expected to cost the state up to $40 million per year to fund grants to an estimated 34,000 community college students, 3,600 in the California State University system, and as many as 642 in the University of California system.

Once students earn degrees, they’ll be unable to work legally in the state, critics said. The federal Dream Act, which includes a path to citizenship through college attendance or military service, has failed repeatedly.