The 2020 campaign for president is already heating up, and the Democratic field includes almost two dozen candidates. One of them, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, recently unleashed a widely-covered proposal offering “free college” and elimination of student debt for millions of Americans. In an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle, I analyzed why Warren’s proposal is not in the best interests of the nation.
As I have written in the past, The New York Times has had a pattern of sensationalizing the status of student loan debt in the country through a series of articles that misrepresent the true status of borrowing. It is a mystery to me why the Times persists in doing so, as they have also published articles that more accurately show the true state of affairs. The most recent misrepresentation appeared last week in an article authored by Kevin Carey, a frequent critic of higher education in this country. Earlier this year I wrote a critique of Carey’s most recent book, The End of College.
In his Times article Carey tells the story of Liz Kelley, a 48-year-old woman who borrowed $26,278 to earn a bachelor’s degree in English in 1994, but whose student loan debt today totals $410,000 – yes, $410,000! As Carey points out, this is a sum of money Ms. Kelley is unlikely to be able to ever pay back given her current career as a teacher at a parochial school. Her total borrowing ballooned because of additional debt she took on for graduate programs (in law, which she didn’t complete, and then education), and the fact that she was infrequently, if at all, actively repaying her loans.
As Arne Duncan, one of the longest-serving Secretaries of Education, announces his forthcoming resignation, observers are starting to reflect on his impact on education policy in the nation. Duncan will most likely be remembered more for his focus on K-12 education, not surprising given his background as the superintendent of Chicago Public Schools, third-largest school district in the country. In that domain, he was known mostly for extending the Bush-era focus on accountability via testing. And it was that focus that led him to be reviled by many in traditional K-12 schools. As education historian and commentator Diane Ravitch wrote in the Huffington Post recently, “It will take years to recover from the damage that Arne Duncan’s policies have inflicted on public education.”
Hillary Clinton, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president, recently released a set of policy proposals to address the rising cost of college. While there are many good aspects to her plan, there are also some problems with it. In a recent op-ed on the website of The Conversation, I analyzed Secretary Clinton’s plan and some of the barriers to its enactment.
Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley recently declared his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for president, challenging front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton. Among his key proposals as a candidate are to offer students in public colleges and universities “debt-free college” and for states “to immediately freeze tuition rates.”
While these may sound like good ideas to address the rising price of college, what is concerning is that Governor O’Malley has evidently crafted these proposals based on his own experience with student loans. As The Washington Post recently wrote,
The proposition is deeply personal for O’Malley: Aides say he and his wife have already incurred $339,200 in loans to put the two eldest of their four children through universities. . . “Right now, student loan debt is holding us back — student by student, family by family, and as a nation, we have to do better,” O’Malley said during an event at Saint Anselm College in Manchester.
Grants and scholarships are critical for helping many students afford college. Data from the College Board show that the largest single grant program, the federal government’s Pell Grant program, awarded $33.7 billion to 9.2 million students in the 2013-14 academic year. Without the support of Pell Grants, millions of students across the country would not be able to enroll in college.
A limitation of Pell Grants for traditional students who are graduating from high school and contemplating attending college, like many other financial aid programs, is that most students do not find out about their eligibility for the grants until late in their senior year in high school. This is often too late for students to take the steps necessary to prepare themselves for college – including preparing academically, financially, and socially – to have an impact on their college going behavior.
As I have written in the past, a lot of attention is currently being paid to the topic of student loan debt in the United States (a couple of representative posts can be found here and here). Earlier this year, President Obama proposed to make community college free for all students, motivated at least in part by concerns over the growing volume of student loan debt in the nation. With the 2016 presidential campaign starting to gear up, there are already indications that student loans will be an important topic of debate.
I recently received in my email inbox a request to sign a petition to “forgive all student loan debt” in the country. The email did not come from some fringe group that was an offshoot of the Occupy Movement that first started a few years ago, and included as one of its platforms the elimination of all student loan debt. The email came from the American Federation of Teachers, the second-largest teacher union in the country, representing over 1.6 million members. The AFT, in conjunction with other groups, is calling on President Obama and Congress to wipe out all of the existing $1.3 trillion in loan debt held by current and former college students in the nation.
A recently-published book, The End of College: Creating the Future of Learning and the University of Everywhere, by New American educational analyst Kevin Carey, has received a lot of media attention. Carey predicts that most colleges as we know them today will likely disappear, and be replaced by online courses that will be widely and freely available to all students. In an op-ed in The Chronicle of Higher Education, I explained why Carey’s prediction is not likely to come to fruition, and if it did, why it would be bad for the nation.
Earlier this year, I wrote about the student at Duke University who reported she was paying for college by acting in pornographic movies. Her story received a lot of publicity, including much that decried the need for this woman to resort to a career in pornography to pay her tuition bills. As I asked at the time,
A telling story of the state of college affordability in the nation? Not at all. It is simply the story of the choices made by one young woman, and we should not attach any importance to what she has done.
This school year, a similar story is making the rounds, most prominently in an article in The Atlantic last fall, “How Sugar Daddies Are Financing College Education.” According to the story, a website called SeekingArrangement.com reports it has over 2 million women members (“Sugar Babies”) who join the site “where beautiful, successful people fuel mutually beneficial relationships” in order to meet “Sugar Daddies.” This might sound like any other dating website, albeit one for people who have a self-inflated image of themselves. But The Atlantic article alleges that this site differs from others in that the women there are looking to get paid for their relationship with the men on the site, or to put it more directly, they are offering escort or prostitution services. A follow-up article in The Atlantic this month highlights colleges and universities across the country that have a proportionally large number of women registered on the site. Other media have covered the phenomenon of sugar babies and sugar daddies as well.
Earlier this month, President Obama began releasing previews of some important proposals he will be making in his State of the Union speech tonight. Included is the idea of providing the first two years of community college for free for all students in the country. While this may sound like an intriguing idea, in an op-ed on The Conversation website I explained why this isn’t the best use of federal funds.