March 11, 2013
In today’s Inside Higher Education, Christopher Loss has an excellent piece on the unfolding college cost crisis. His push off point is President Obama’s recent State of the Union Address in which he said that he would “ask Congress to change the Higher Education Act so that affordability and value are included in determining which colleges receive certain types of federal aid.” Loss spells out what this could mean:
This shift in priorities will not only hurt poor students but the entire higher education system. Colleges will be less willing to take chances on students that can’t pay full freight or look like they won’t graduate on time, leading to greater economic stratification and the end of student diversity as we’ve known it. Professors will feel even more pressure to pass students along regardless of the work they do, thus making rampant grade inflation worse. Administrators will be apt to massage student data to improve their institutional outcomes and rankings. And parents will demand that their students pursue pre-professional degrees with the strongest employment prospects, further marginalizing the liberal arts and other “blue sky” fields that offer less immediate “bang for the buck,” turning them into wealthy majors for those who can afford idle cogitation. Meanwhile, ever greater numbers of poor students will cluster around the least desirable yet most expensive diploma mills, resulting in even more young people being left behind.
Are these doomsday scenarios far-fetched? Not really. Some of these things are already happening, now.
Loss urges that “The Pell Grant should be expanded and restored to its full purchasing power. To pay for it, regressive education tax credits favoring high earners should be abandoned and along with it financial aid to for-profit education providers, where the dropout, debt and default rates are highest and always have been.”
And he adds “The challenge of our lifetime remains the problem of poverty. But to meet that challenge requires acknowledging that it exists.” There’s the dishonesty: we are denying that the basic problem of access is a problem of money. Without governments (state and federal) doing more, there simply isn’t enough money to assure a quality higher education for all.