New Orleans The Obama Administration is in the drafting stages of a proposal to link federal student financial aid to key accountability and affordability standards for higher educational institutions. By 2015, the proposal would rate institutions by measures including tuition costs, graduation rates, debt load and earnings of graduates, and, thankfully, even the percentage of lower income enrollment. None of these proposals would happen overnight of course, they would start to roll-out in 2015 but would impact on federal financial aid until 2018.
Obama is preparing this proposal for Congress, so I know you are thinking this is just an academic exercise since nothing seems to escape Congress alive anymore. Furthermore there are so many diploma mills in places like Podunk U in Congressman Porkchop’s district in Whatever, Kentucky or Long Gone, Kansas that you can already hear the screaming and gnashing of teeth in the distance.
But, look, we spend $150 billion in annual student aid, so why shouldn’t the federal government have some standards for how much or how little aid it gives. I’m actually OK with Podunk U getting its fair share. We need access to education all over the country. The bigger issue for me is the on-line scams, the radio and television infomercials for technical, health, beautician, and other programs that have a business model but no educational plan other than dangling dreams in front of young people desperate for education and training that will provide jobs at the end of the rainbow, but end up with mountains of debt and no real prospects.
That’s one part of the dark side of the hustlers who see $150 billion and can hardly keep their hard drives dry for their drooling. The other side is all of the money captured by the institutions that in fact do provide real value and prestige, but see the financial aid as an entitlement for the middle and upper middle class rather than as part of the public policy goals of the entire nation which is responsible not for a certain strata but providing equal opportunity for all. They have been talking for years, but not walking one step forward on the issue of equity and thereby playing a huge role in moving the 1% farther away from the 99%.
Whether its Phoenix University or Princeton, this is all a mess, and whether Congress is willing to act or not, it’s good news that the Administration is moving forward, because a lot can be done with this pile of carrots, even if Congress is too chicken to give them a stick.