Obama plans college aid for prisoners

Some prison inmates will receive federal college aid, despite a 1994 law that cut off Pell Grants to prisoners. The Education Department says Pell for prisoners is legal under a waiver provision for experimental programs.

Before 1994, prisoners could use Pell Grants to cover tuitions, books and other education-related expenses. Online learning should make it easier and cheaper to provide coursework to inmates.

President Barack Obama tours a cell block at the Federal Correctional Institution in El Reno, Okla., on July 16. PHOTO: SAUL LOEB/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

President Obama tours a federal prison in Oklahoma on July 16. Photo: Saul Loeb, Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Under the Obama administration’s plan, grants of up to $5,775 a year would go directly to colleges and universities that provide courses to prisoners.

Of 700,000 prisoners released each year, more than 40 percent will be back behind bars within three years, said Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who announced the program at a Maryland prison on Friday.

“For every dollar invested in prison education programs, this saves taxpayers on average $5,” said Lois Davis, who authored a RAND study.  Inmates who take college classes are 16 percent less likely to return to prison, she estimated.

Congress provided nearly $300 million last year to fund job training and re-entry programs for prisoners, said Republican Lamar Alexander, who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, in a statement.

Pell aid might be a “worthwhile idea for some prisoners,” but the administration has no authority to ignore the law, Alexander said. “Congress can address changes to Pell grants as part of the Senate education committee’s work to reauthorize the Higher Education Act this fall.”

Study: Federal aid fuels tuition hikes

Federal grants and student loans have fueled the rise in college tuition, according to a new report by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Each additional dollar in government aid led to a tuition hike of about 65 cents, the report found. “The numbers were not quite as grim for Pell Grants, where 55 cents of each additional dollar turned into higher tuition, but it was even worse for subsidized student loans (the most common type of aid), where every dollar loaned translates to a 70-cent tuition hike,” writes Blake Neff in the Daily Caller.

This is consistent with earlier research, writes Hans Bader, who’s got lots of links.

Increased regulation also has driven up college costs, argues Bader. Obama’s Education Department has “flooded the nation’s schools with new rules that have never been properly vetted or codified,” college presidents complained recently.

Wastefully run colleges can now increase tuition even faster, at taxpayer expense, as a result of the Obama administration’s recent expansions of the Pay As You Earn program. The Pay As You Earn program limits borrowers’ monthly debt payments to 10 percent of their discretionary income. The balance of their loans is then forgiven after 20 years—or just 10 years, if the borrower works for the government or a nonprofit. It will cost taxpayers a lot, while doing nothing for most student borrowers (who will experience tuition increases as a result), and it will favor imprudent borrowers over prudent borrowers.

. . . (Borrowers) will pay the same amount over 20 years (or 10 years) no matter how much their high-priced college charged in tuition—eliminating any incentive for such colleges to keep costs under control, or to keep their tuition from escalating at a dramatic rate.

Cato’s Neal McCluskey links to eight studies on the inflationary effect of student aid.

Obama’s higher ed legacy includes nearly doubling Pell funding for low- and moderate-income students and more than tripling tuition tax credits for the middle class.

From addiction to graduation

Even as a drug addict, Wayne Miller was an enterprising guy. He enrolled in the Community College of Vermont to collect financial aid to fund his drug-dealing business, he told Vermont Public Radio. “I wanted to get that money and buy drugs and make a profit. So I had no intentions of staying there beyond the first semester or paying the money back, or anything like that.”

Wayne Miller now works as a drug-abuse counselor. Photo: Charlotte Albright, VPR

Wayne Miller now works as a drug-abuse counselor. Photo: Charlotte Albright, VPR

He took a course on substance abuse prevention, thinking it would be easy, and got hooked on school.

He’ll receive his associate degree and an award for community service tomorrow.

Miller works as a substance abuse counselor. “Some days I still feel like crap and I just try to do the next right thing to better myself,” he says.

Feds will test aid for competency programs

Hoping to speed older students to a degree, the U.S. Education Department will allow some colleges to award credit — and student aid — for competency and prior learning.

Obama touts job training, but where’s the money?

President Obama’s “rhetorical support for vocational training” hasn’t been matched with money. In 2012 the federal government spent more than $180 billion on aid and tax benefits for college students, but only $1 billion on vocational education.

Fixing federal aid: What’s feasible?

Federal student aid is driving up tuition, encouraging students to go slowly and costing taxpayers a bundle, says an economist. He proposes directing aid to low-income students and linking eligibility to academic progress.

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.