Recently the Wall Street Journal reported on findings about federal college aid that no one will like:
Studies of the relationship between increasing aid and climbing prices at nonprofit four-year colleges found mixed results, ranging from no link to a strong causal connection. But fresh academic research supports the idea that student aid in the form of grants leads to higher prices at for-profit schools, a small segment of postsecondary education.
The new study found that tuition at for-profit schools where students receive federal aid was 75% higher than at comparable for-profit schools whose students don’t receive any aid.
This is the sort of research that challenges the assumptions on both sides of the political debate. On the one hand, the findings support the conservative idea that federal aid to students ends up boosting tuition costs rather than actually helping people. On the other, they only show this when it comes to the for-profit colleges that liberals hate and conservatives tend to support.
The Via Meadia take remains that for-profit institutions can and should be part of an effective mix in higher education, but–as research like this shows–we clearly haven’t developed the appropriate framework for it.
Overall, making education and training much cheaper is a top item on the country’s to do list. This task forms an essential part of both a social justice agenda to make it easier for poor people, immigrants and working parents to get ahead, and is also a necessary element of any serious approach to enabling long term growth in this country.
To make that happen, bringing private money into education and bringing the creativity and innovation that the private sector at its best can offer into the mix is necessary. But that doesn’t happen in a vacuum. The United States doesn’t need waves of fly-by-night diploma mills and student loan processing centers to rip off a new generation of students.
While there are problems with using standardized test scores to assess the value of the liberal arts degrees conferred by traditional colleges, it’s much easier and more rational to set up licensing exams and other objective measures for students enrolled in training and skill development programs. Those tests are not only valuable because they give employers some assurance that applicants really have the skills the employer wants; information about graduation rates and costs can provide consumers and regulators alike with the kind of information needed to make smart decisions.