Jiggering Tuition Costs to Employment Yield

New Orleans      Thinking about student loan debt and the soaring costs of university education is interesting, even if it almost guarantees a migraine or a pain on the south side.

The backstory runs in several channels.  The huge gift at Morehouse College by billionaire Robert Smith and his offer to pay the student debt of almost 400 in this year’s graduating class has unleashed a tsunami of discussion.  His generosity and good will is indisputable, but equally inarguable is the public policy crisis reflected by the cost of higher education and the extended burden of student debt.

The Obama administration in attempting to rein in for profit higher education institutions disqualified certain programs and institutions from federally guaranteed student loans because of the limited prospect of graduates ever earning enough money to repay the cost of the program.  Not only did this approach hammer the Phoenix Universities of the country, it also exposed the graduate theater program at Harvard as unsustainable on these terms.

An executive order from President Trump now requires the average amount of debt incurred by graduates of different academic programs and all higher ed institutions to be reported, and the first returns are now available.  Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican from Tennessee and chair of the Education Committee, has now proposed going a step farther than the Obama rules by legislating a system that would not be institution-based, but program-based within institutions.  He’s claiming this would offer an incentive for colleges to reduce tuition costs for some programs based on employment outcomes by forcing a change on the one cost covers everything whether liberal arts or business and engineering with high pay.

The old “education for education’s sake” crowd that has bunkered down in liberal arts and other programs for literally centuries is under assault.  I’m actually sympathetic to that argument both intellectually and almost genetically.  Education shouldn’t be allowed to be transactional.

At the same time, costs and debt are totally out of control, so it is impossible not to see higher education as having earned a huge disruption of their business model.  And, let’s be honest, universities are already charging based on employment.  In the San Jose area recently I heard they were charging $96,000 for an MBA program at Santa Clara University, so don’t tell me that’s not calibrated to current and future earnings.

The Times’ reporter, Kevin Carey, nailed the problem saying, “…while college is about more than money, it can be paid only with money.”

We haven’t hit the right solution yet, but the solution in predatory markets requires using “affordability” as the benchmark for a loan.  I would argue that affordability needs to be test for every student entering the institution, regardless of program or degree, and that higher education facilities need to learn to apply that test more accurately just as they do in accounting for every penny of a family’s income.


Please enjoy Coyote by Mako.

Thanks to KABF.


LeBron’s Bikes

Auckland         As the sports commentators often say, LeBron James is “part of the conversation” on who might be the greatest basketball player ever.  Having played with the Cleveland Cavaliers where he brought them a title finally after decades and the Miami Heat where he won two championships, he has been in the finals for umpteen consecutive seasons.  Recently, at the end of a contract, he signed another with the storied Los Angeles Lakers to continue his career.   LeBron knows basketball, so why is he at the center of yet more of President Donald Trump’s racist dog whistles to his base?

Well, in defending fellow superstar and longtime opposition competitor Steph Curry’s comment earlier in the year that he and the Golden State Warriors had no interest in visiting the White House as long as Trump was running the circus there, LeBron had called the president a “bum.”  Most of us would have thought that Trump would have been grateful.  There were so many other things he might have said, as we all well know, but Trump thrives on conflict, so it was on.

Trump bided his time but saw an opportunity.  LeBron James continuing to be an ambassador for northeast Ohio and his hometown of Akron, opened a school there called “Promise Academy.”  Trump pounced on him and insulted his intellect in a signal of racism to his hater band.  He tried to get his goat by saying, “I like Mike,” meaning in the arguments between the two he favors Michael Jordan for the GOAT award.  Jordan for his part voted for LJ, meaning LeBron James.  Melania Trump, the first lady, earned some respect, saying for her part, she would love to visit Promise and see what they are doing for children in Akron.

Most interestingly, I was captivated by the fact that LeBron gave every one of the children coming to the school a bicycle, explaining that having a bike when he was a boy opened up the greater world to him and allowed him to experience its potential and meet people, including white folks, and understand something outside of his home experience.  What a wonderful story.  Not the standard iPad or computer, but a door to the rest of the world and a way to exercise and be mobile at the same time.

Trump had a golden opportunity, but he blew it.  Some mass marketer or philanthropist will hopefully jump on the bandwagon soon to start a national program, let’s call it “LeBron’s bikes” to try and get bicycles to young people everywhere.

And, if Trump doesn’t think LeBron is smart, how brilliant is it of LeBron to be identified with bicycles and not just basketballs.  I bet there is a long line in front of his agent’s office of bike companies from around the world wondering what it would take to have LeBron pitch their bikes or how many of them they can give to children hoping for one.

To miss this opportunity to make some huge social changes you must be some kind of loser bum.