National politicians continue to speak about higher education from a perspective of almost total ignorance. In fact, Mitt Romney has actually argued that for-profit colleges are the solution for making higher education more affordable and accessible. Of course, Romney does not say that these schools have some of the highest tuitions and lowest graduate rates. As the New York Times points out, Romney may be influenced by the fact that he is receiving large campaign contributions from for-profit institutions. His position also connects with his belief that these schools represent the free market at its purest. Of course, what he ignores or does not know is that most of the funding for these schools comes from federal Pell Grants.
Even more scary is VP Joe Biden’s recent presentation on higher education. Based on his own experience as an adjunct law professor, he argues that the salaries of adjuncts are driving up the costs of higher education. This is wrong on so many levels that one wonders if there is any hope of having our political officials understand anything about the economics of higher ed.
As the President pushes his goal to have the United States regain its position as the country with the highest number of college graduates, all of our state and national policies are moving in the opposite direction. As I have discussed in regard to the reversal of the California Master Plan, what is happening is that as more students are being crowded out of community college and state universities, they are turning to high-cost, low-performing for-profit schools. The end result is that students are paying more and going into greater debt, but we are producing fewer degrees.
One possible solution is to have the federal government to take all of the money it is spending on for-profit schools and spend it on public universities. Another solution is to have the Fed bail out student debt and to move to a system where higher education is made free and universal. For a discussion of these issues, you can listen to a radio show in which I participated.