Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Why College Is So Costly ... The Political Muscle of College Leaders Does Great Harm to Students, Families, Taxpayers and America as a Whole

Education is a good thing, but knowledge is better. Much better, in fact. That said, the unemployment rate for 'educated' college graduates is 2.5%, or half the general rate.

But how much we pay to get that degree is also very important. We should de everything possible to avoid going into debt to get it.

College finance has become dependent on the government, and that's the root cause of the debt load being experienced by students and their families. I know that doesn't sound right, but it's true. Government 'help' causes costs to explode for any given offering, whether it be home financing, medical care or education. There's no lid on costs and no relation to value when 'stuff' is subsidized and offered for 'free.'

As individuals, it's knowledge, dependability and effort that will determine our success in the marketplace for work. And entering adulthood without a boatload of debt will give us a great assist in being ready to take on the financial responsibilities that will come later in life and after our school days are over. So with that backdrop, let's look closer at college, its enormous costs and the value not being received by too many of today's attendees and graduates. It's not a pretty picture.

Students and their families are big borrowers to attend college. Taxpayers are really big payers as well. College faculty, administrators and employees end up with the money paid and debt incurred by those students, parents and taxpayers. As a result, the cost of going to many colleges is much greater than the value it provides to students and society. In other words, the deck is stacked against the students and taxpayers in favor of the college employees.

In turn these college officials lobby and support the politicians for financial support --- and support them they do, often at the expense of the students, their families and taxpayers. Free lunches don't exist in the real world. Somebody always pays.

But what about measuring the value received for the money spent? Well, that's a good but largely unanswerable question. No good metrics exist, and there's a very good reason for that. Colleges don't want them to exist. Colleges don't want to be accountable to either students or taxpayers for providing a solid education for the money spent to get that degree. It sucks, but it's true.

Colleges Flex Lobbying Muscle tells this story about the political power of American colleges:

"Lynchburg College President Kenneth Garren was sipping wine at a reception before Virginia’s gubernatorial inauguration last year when he spotted a familiar face: Sen. Mark Warner. . . . At the inauguration party, Mr. Garren says, he buttonholed the senator and urged him to oppose a plan from President Barack Obama to create a ratings system for colleges.

Mr. Warner (D., Va.) announced two months later that he opposed Mr. Obama’s plan, saying he had been persuaded by Mr. Garren and other Virginia college presidents. Scores of other members of Congress did the same, and this summer, Mr. Obama announced that he was backing off key elements. . . .

Colleges and universities have become one of the most effective lobbying forces in Washington, employing more lobbyists last year than any other industries except drug manufacturing and technology. There are colleges in every congressional district, and 1 in 40 U.S. workers draw a paycheck from a college or university.

Over the last two decades, the higher-education industry has beaten back dozens of government proposals to measure its successes and failures. It has killed efforts to tighten rules for accrediting schools, defeated a proposed requirement to divulge more information about graduation rates and eliminated funding for state agencies that could have closed bad schools. The proposals had support from both sides of the political aisle.

The political pressure on higher education is rooted in a simple but vexing question: Is the government getting a good return on the money it is pouring into the U.S. college system? The government’s goal is to enable nearly every American who wants to go to college to do so. Federal spending on loans and grants, on an inflation-adjusted basis, has jumped more than 50% over the past decade to $134 billion last year, and total federal student-loan debt has hit $1.2 trillion.

Few metrics

The concern is that it is difficult for students, parents, taxpayers and the government to determine whether the higher-education investment is well spent because there are few clear metrics to determine if schools are succeeding or failing.

Colleges and their lobbyists say many of the proposed requirements they opposed would have made it more difficult for colleges to serve students of all different abilities and economic means. They say the government can’t possibly determine the best schools for millions of students. . . .

The failure of political efforts to require more accountability and transparency means that colleges continue to collect billions of dollars annually in student loans with few strings attached, including schools that don’t graduate many of their students and where loan defaults are high.

“Their first answer is, ‘No, leave me alone, but give me money,’ ” said Celia Sims, a former education adviser in the Senate and President George W. Bush’s Education Department. . . .

Each of the 435 lawmakers in the U.S. House represents at least one of the nearly 5,500 colleges in the country . . . . On average, each House lawmaker represents a dozen two-year and four-year schools.Those colleges employ 3.6 million faculty and staff members, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Four-year colleges alone represent the sixth-largest industry by employment in the country. . . .

The federal government requires schools to be accredited before their students can receive loans.

Accreditors have long resisted performance standards, saying their mission is to improve weak schools, not shut them down. The commission recommended that accreditors find a way, such as a test, to determine how much students were learning. That would allow the public to compare schools. Many school presidents complained to lawmakers that the proposal intruded on their independence....

Ratings plan

In August 2013, President Obama announced a college-ratings plan under which the government would collect and analyze data on graduation rates and student-debt loads. Mr. Obama said the goal was to allow parents, students and the government to “get a bigger bang for their buck.” The plan was to slot colleges into three broad categories: high performing, low performing and the rest. Money would be on the line. Poorly performing schools could lose student-aid money, while colleges that “are providing high-quality education are the ones that are going to see their taxpayer money going up,” he said.

Mr. Obama wanted to establish the ratings plan by the start of the 2015-16 school year and to begin reallocating student aid by 2018. Colleges complained that the government shouldn’t be in charge of weighing the numerous factors that go into determining colleges’ performance. . . .

In June, the Education Department announced it wouldn’t rate the colleges and or try to tie performance to federal dollars. Among its rationale: It had little support from colleges and universities."

Summing Up

A college education is a good thing. That's for sure.

But it's needlessly expensive and full of financial fantasy and false claims as well. That's for sure too.

College is big business, and politicians listen when the heads of colleges speak.

Students are in large part merely the conduits for government to forward big money to college chieftains.

Taxpayers, students and their families are the ones paying the bills to support what all too often has become a government financed boondoggle.

And it's a boondoggle that ends up doing great future harm to those very students and their families that it purports to benefit.

Politics sucks. So do the costs of attending college and our overall system of government controlled and bureaucrat led formal education.

That's my take.

Thanks. Bob.                                                                                                                                                

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