June 8 2012
Sheriff Joe Biden Rides in to Make College More Affordable, Again and Again…
Vicki E. Alger
This week Vice President Biden held his ninth college affordability roundtable since November 2011—part of a larger White House focus on college affordability.
President Obama outlined his college affordability plan in his 2012 State of the Union address, which emphasized education as key to an “economy that’s built to last.” In other words, to put the economy bad in the black, we have to keep undergraduates out of the poorhouse.
Last October 29, all colleges and universities receiving federal student aid were supposed to have a net price calculator on their websites to “allow students to calculate an estimated net price of attendance at an institution…based on what similar students paid in a previous year.” Earlier this year, however, the New York Times reported:
Last year, the Institute for College Access and Success, a nonpartisan research and advocacy group, conducted an analysis of net price calculators posted by 16 colleges. The study found wide variation in quality and clarity. Some calculators were prominently placed on the college Web sites and made it easy for prospective applicants to get understandable answers about the net cost of an education. Others were buried deep in the sites and required detailed personal financial information that students would not have readily available. Still others include invasive and unnecessary questions — like a student’s contact information or religion — that could scare some students away. This needs to change if the devices are to serve their intended purpose.
So now the Obama administration is adding “a new tool to the College Affordability and Transparency Center that would assist prospective students and their families in comparing colleges before they choose using key measures of college affordability and value. The purpose of the [College Scorecard] is to make it easier for students and their families to identify and choose high-quality, affordable colleges that provide good value.” (See here also)
Better information is an important first step. Project Student Debt reports that the average debt load among college seniors who graduated in 2010 with loans was more than $25,000. Default rates are also up.
Trouble is, no amount of federal mandates will make college more affordable. Rather than tout a $1 billion Race-to-the-Top College program, where states that spend the most taxpayer cash get, well, more taxpayer cash from the federal government, make postsecondary institutions compete directly. By redirecting lump-sum government appropriations for postsecondary institutions to students directly in the form of performance grants, institutions would have to really cut the fat—rather than shifting it around in the form of charges and fees. Students would have to complete their programs and graduate on time or pay their grants back.
The real issue is that the Obama Administration is not the fan of competition it purports to be. The President’s main focus is keeping loan rates artificially low (which is easier to do now the Department of Education has taken over direct lending). But government fiddling with the economy works about as well as government meddling in schools.
People who spend their own money—or at least, money they are responsible for paying back unless they’re responsible stewards—make better choices. Just ask Vice President Biden. As a recent Newsmax article explained:
Last June 13, Obama placed Biden in charge of a Campaign to Cut Waste, which will “hunt down and eliminate misspent tax dollars in every agency and department across the federal government,”…In an email, Biden told supporters that he was the “new sheriff in town.” He said that “particularly at a time when we’re facing tough decisions about reducing our deficit, it’s a no-brainer to stop spending taxpayer dollars on things that benefit nobody.”
Since that time, however, Biden has spent a reported $1 million on weekend trips back to his home state of Delaware—a mere130 miles away. Perhaps the new sheriff and his deputies need to take a summer-school course in no-brainers.