Throwing More Money At Students Won’t Help, Ctd

School Spending

Or at least not much, according to McArdle: 

That black bar represents total spending, and as you can see, we spend more on education than most of our peers, not less. To be sure, that is partly driven by our very high spending on tertiary education, aka college. But we spend more than most of our peers at most levels, not just on college.

She admits that “there is obviously an inequality problem in our schools”:

Should we fix the issues with those schools? Absolutely – and doing so might mean spending more money. But that doesn’t mean that we need to increase the overall level of educational funding. It means that we need to identify ways to improve those underperforming schools, then find out how much more it would cost to implement those programs. It is just as likely that improvements will come from changing methods and reallocating resources as that they will require us to pour more money into failing institutions.

However, Max Ehrenfreund flags new research indicating that more funding does make a significant difference:

Beginning 40 years ago, a series of court rulings forced states to reallocate money for education, giving more to schools in poor neighborhoods with less in the way of local resources.  … A new study on those who went to school during the school-finance cases a few decades ago found that those who attended districts that were affected by the rulings were more likely to stay in school through high school and college and are making more money today.

The authors, Kirabo Jackson and Claudia Persico of Northwestern University and Rucker Johnson of the University of California, Berkeley, released a revised draft of their as-yet-unpublished paper this week. The benefits were most obvious for students from poor families. They found that a 10 percent increase in the money available for each low-income student resulted in a 9.5 percent increase in students’ earnings as adults. A public investment in schools, they wrote, returned 8.9 percent annually for a typical pupil who started kindergarten in 1980.

Previous Dish on the subject here.

The Plan To Make Community College Free, Ctd

Danielle Douglas-Gabriel cautions that Obama’s proposal still falls short for many would-be students:

Free tuition, even for two years, is not nearly enough to cover the cost of attending college. Tuition and fees counted for just 21 percent of the budget for students who attend two-year public college and pay for off-campus housing, according to a recent study from College Board. While the average tuition and fees at a community college is $3,347 for the 2014-2015 academic year, housing cost another $7,705, books averaged $1,328 and transportation added up to $1,735. Keep in mind, too, that Obama’s plan also doesn’t cover fees, which schools routinely charge for using labs, campus health centers and computer labs.

Libby Nelson addresses such concerns:

[Obama’s plan] would apply before Pell Grants. That means that poor students would have more Pell Grant money left over to help them pay for books and other life expenses. But Obama’s college plan would also help a constituency largely ignored by federal aid programs: families who earn too much for federal financial aid but aren’t wealthy enough to afford thousands of dollars of college bills.

Douglas-Gabriel acknowledges the Pell Grant factor but finds that “many students could still wind up working full time or taking out loans, albeit smaller amounts, to pay the difference.” Mike Konczal’s take:

Everyone—poor and middle class—would benefit from college cost control. Indeed this addresses one of the main conservatives complaints about student aid.

If the supply of education is hard to move, then subsidizing education through aid will raise the price of education, as colleges capture some of that as a subsidy. Worse, it also increases costs for students who don’t receive the subsidy, resulting in price inflation.

Fair enough. But if that’s true, then it must also be true that lowering the price of tuition directly with a public option will reduce prices across the board. Suddenly state and private colleges will have to consider if they offer enough value to make their price over community colleges a reasonable value. This is what the economist JW Mason refers to as progressive supply-side economics, and it’s part of the reason public options are so valuable. There’s a reason the CBO keeps scoring the public option as a major cost saver in healthcare. It’s not just the lower price of the public option; it’s that a public option “would tend to increase the competitive pressure on [other] insurers” in the exchanges, leading them ”to lower their premiums, which would further reduce federal subsidies.” This won’t break the back of rising higher-education costs, but it will help.

Scott Shackford, on the other hand, is deeply critical of Obama’s plan:

It’s not the students being subsidized, it’s the college. So they’re going to do everything in their power to keep these students attending, even if it results in students leaving college with associate’s degrees they can barely read, which will subsequently devalue the degrees in the eyes of employers.

Even in an era of grade inflation, though, community colleges also have terrible completion rates for students seeking two-year degrees. The Chronicle of Higher Education offers a handy map showing completion rates lower than 10 percent in states like Indiana and Rhode Island after three years of attendance. The best state, South Dakota, has a 52.9 percent completion rate. For-profit colleges [like Bryman College], for all their criticism for taking advantage of students (and federal subsidies), have a higher graduation rate than community colleges. … If a student falls into the extremely high drop-out rate for students, the government (and the taxpayers) don’t get the money back. So the White House is promoting a program funded by taxpayers to subsidize—wait, I mean further subsidize—a system that has baked in an extremely high failure rate.

But again, this program is not a subsidy for students. It’s a subsidy for faculty and college level administrative bloat.

And Andrew Flowers shows how such colleges are in more need now than in recent years:

As my colleague Ben Casselman pointed out in April, college enrollment is declining for recent high school graduates (those 16 to 24 years old). And it’s falling fastest for community colleges. This drop comes after a surge in enrollment during the Great Recession. For those graduating high school between 2007 and 2009, the share enrolled at two-year colleges rose to 27.7 percent from 24.1 percent. After reaching a high with the 2012 graduating class, the share of these young people at two-year colleges dropped sharply in 2013, to 23.8 percent. …

With better employment opportunities available for high school graduates, community colleges might just need the incentive of free tuition to lure more students.

Follow the entire Dish debate on the topic here.

The Plan To Make Community College Free, Ctd

This post is getting a lot of response from the in-tray:

Your skeptical readers perhaps have not read the full proposal from Obama:

Building High-Quality Community Colleges: Community colleges will be expected to offer programs that either (1) are academic programs that fully transfer to local public four-year colleges and universities, giving students a chance to earn half of the credit they need for a four-year degree, or (2) are occupational training programs with high graduation rates and that lead to degrees and certificates that are in demand among employers.

So the proposal appears to include the kind of “vocational and trade school” training your readers prefer. It limits participation to proven programs in high-demand fields, to improve the chances of employment. So when one of your readers writes, “The president ought to be focusing on expanding opportunity for those who either choose not to go to college or cannot afford to do so,” that’s exactly what this program is intended to do.

Another snipes:

You quoted a reader: “Less people should be going to college. I’ve been to college. I have my degree. Want to buy it for $100?” That’s too high a price for a degree from someone who writes “Less people” instead of “Fewer people.” Sorry! Couldn’t resist.

Another refers to that quoted reader as Judge Smails, seen in the above video. Several readers sound off more substantively:

I love Obama’s plan. He is working within the infrastructure that we have but making changes that will help millions. It’s exactly what he did with the ACA and immigration. It’s his MO. God bless him.

My local community colleges are a mix of transfer students and trade students. The transfer students are taking typical freshman and sophomore classes to prepare for transfer to a four-year college.  The trade students take some basic freshman classes (writing, math), but they are focused on exactly the type of job training that your reader thinks they should be getting. They are learning auto repair, engine repair, repair and maintenance of HVAC systems, building trades, horticulture, culinary arts, emergency medical technician, early childhood education, paramedic, medical laboratory technician, radiology tech, criminal justice/police skills, nurse assistant, RN nursing, etc. None of these kids are going to get rich doing this stuff, but they are learning skills that can provide them with a middle-class income.

Another adds, “My school (Orange Coast College) also has a helicopter mechanic training program; if I recall correctly, starting salaries for graduates are near $100k.” Another points out:

Many of these jobs were, not too long ago, learned on the job; many were apprenticeship programs, where a master taught apprentices and journeymen while they earned pay for their work. This, sadly, is becoming rare. There has been a shift of training from the employer to employees, and this is particularly true of what’s called the skilled trades.

So the presumption that much of this work is “unskilled” is elitist. If your furnace fails, as mine was, you will hope the person who comes to repair it is highly skilled and proficient at the job. If your car breaks down, you want a skilled mechanic. And if you go out to eat, you’ll probably want the restaurant managed by someone who comprehends how to safely handle food. You want x-ray techs who don’t bombard you with too much radiation.

Your plumber cannot be outsourced; she needs to come to your home or office to do her job. And she needs someplace to learn how to do that job if master plumbers aren’t shouldering the burden of training the next generation of plumbers. That’s where community colleges really matter; and where they offer a wealth of skills for young adults.

Another shifts the debate:

I have no problem with making community college free if we have the resources to spend on educational programs. For one thing, community colleges do provide a lot of the trade and vocational classes that your readers are interested in. My brother dropped out of a four-year liberal arts college and years later has started taking computer classes at a community college that are really beneficial for his job. And it’s much cheaper than traditional college, though it is still expensive for someone who doesn’t make that much to begin with. So making it free would definitely be beneficial for some people, like my brother.

But in a world where educational spending is not unlimited, I just cannot get behind the idea of spending more money on college degrees when we know that early education can make a much bigger difference in a community. I was so much more supportive of the idea of universal pre-K than this. Study after study has demonstrated that getting kids into preschools, even for just a few hours a week, makes serious long-term differences in people’s lives. If we are going to spend money on education, can we at least spend it on programs that we know will make a difference in a big way rather than on programs that might help a few people?

One more reader:

It’s been estimated that it would cost approximately $15-30 billion per year to make ALL public colleges completely free for everyone. Sure, it’s a lot of money, but for some perspective, we spent nearly a trillion dollars to remake a foreign country called Iraq. So for what we paid for that disastrous war (which we’re still fighting), we could have paid for public college for everyone for as many as 66 years!

The Plan To Make Community College Free, Ctd

A reader isn’t a fan of this plan:

I sure wish people would stop using the word “free” regarding these kinds of plans. They aren’t free.  I’ll be paying for them.  You’ll be paying for them.

I think that more concentrated “trade school/technical” type of high schools are better than sending everyone to college.  My guess is that for most people the years spent on college would be better spent on preparing to have a trade. It is a cruel trick to play on the working classes to make them think that EVERYONE is going to profit by merely going to college, as if you can’t better yourself without it.  Only the Left will benefit from everyone going to college, since Leftist/Marxist indoctrination is rife amongst Academicians.

Less people should be going to college.  I’ve been to college.  I have my degree. Want to buy it for $100?  I’ll sell it to you. There is very little that college gave me that I couldn’t have obtained on my own, simply by continuing my life-long love of reading (I was reading by age of five, thanks to my mother’s own love of reading).

As a taxpayer, I don’t want to pay for the education of people when it won’t enhance their life.  I would rather pay for more trade schools and technical skills for people.  And by the way, you can get damn rich by being a carpenter or a plumber or an electrician.

More readers sound off:

I can’t help thinking that, regarding this plan from Obama, he’s getting the issue all wrong.

From my perspective, the problem with higher education in America is that too many people need it more than that too few people get it. As it is already, too many college students either don’t want or don’t need what, at its core, a college education actually (and should) offer: a chance to pursue knowledge for its own sake and engage with thought and ideas simply for the sake of doing so. Few people actually enjoy this or can benefit from it, and yet it is really this experience, not job training or acquisition of marketable skills, that college is meant to provide.

Conversely, colleges are comparatively ill-equipped to provide job skills training, since most faculty members’ primary goal is pursuit of new knowledge (research) rather than teaching. Vocational and trade schools, not colleges, are the proper forum to provide Americans who are looking to get ahead with the skills they need to improve their lives, and yet the president is doubling down on the absurd misuse of colleges and universities that is already so pervasive.

As a student at a prestigious (if I may say so myself) university, I can tell you that most students are not there to engage with ideas and acquire knowledge, but to “check the box” on their way to a lucrative career. Academia is simply not meant to be no-cost employee training for corporations, and it is to the detriment of everyone when it gets used this way. The president ought to be focusing on expanding opportunity for those who either choose not to go to college or cannot afford to do so.

Another skeptical reader:

I have given a lot of thought about this based on my own experience. In my smallish hometown back in the late ’90s, when NAFTA was picking off manufacturing right and left, several of the largest factories closed in a short period of time.  Lots of people took advantage of Trade Adjustment Assistance, which basically allows you to receive unemployment benefits for two years as long as you are in a degree program. The tuition wasn’t included (as I recall), but virtually everyone was eligible for full Pell Grants.

Two years later though, the jobs of the future had not arrived. You just had a glut of people with Associate Degrees competing for jobs that paid less than the ones they lost.  Now the president’s new plan would be aimed at young people who have the option of moving to where the better jobs are. So this is definitely not apples to apples. But it’s still going to be many more Associate Degrees, which will make Bachelor Degrees more sought-after.

And how are these folks who needed the free community college tuition going to pay for that? Student loans. Throw in wage stagnation and a larger share of people with these degrees, and round and round we go.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for more education. For cheaper education. I applaud this as a great start. But we need cheaper higher education and higher wages to really make a difference.

Update: Many readers here correct and counter the ones above.

When Just One Leg Up Isn’t Enough

Two-generation anti-poverty programs, which combine self-sufficiency initiatives for poor parents and early childhood education for their kids, have been around since the early 1990s but are recently making a comeback. These programs address a catch-22 that many struggling parents face: in order to build their careers, they must spend more time away from home, but they struggle to find and afford quality childcare, forcing them to stay home and stay poor. Alana Semuels profiles one two-generation program in Atlanta that has proven remarkably successful:

The Dunbar Learning Complex is a calm and bright space in the otherwise blighted streets of Mechanicsville. There, children receive free schooling, from infancy to pre-K, when their parents register with a career-development center to begin improving their job skills.

The complex is home to both a public elementary school and a pre-school, which accepts children beginning at six weeks of age. The pre-school, which opened five years ago, holds itself to high standards, and is part of Educare network, a national network of full-day, early-education schools. It has an entire art studio where children can experiment, part of a Reggio approach to learning, and its infant classrooms allow only eight students at once. …

The results at Dunbar have been impressive—after the first year alone, 55 percent of incoming kindergarten students at the elementary school were reading at or above grade level, up from 6 percent in 2010. The percentage of children below the thirtieth percentile on the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test dropped by 23 percentage points the first year alone, while the percentage of those scoring above the 50th percentile increased 12 points.

Parents at the Dunbar Learning Complex also get a handful of resources to help them in parenting: Counselors help them access special teachers if their child is lagging behind in development; health navigators help ensure children get necessary vaccinations and can inspect housing, with parents’ permission, to see if anything in a family’s home might be making a child sick. The complex has monthly meetings on issues like child development, literacy, and health, and helps teach parents how to read with their children at home.

The strategy has proven so successful that there’s now a waiting list of 400 children, double the preschool’s enrollment. And that, in turn, has driven parents to show up at the Center for Working Families, up the hill, to register for job training or a career counselor. Kids can’t get on the waiting list of the Educare site unless their parents are enrolled with the Center for Working Families.

Smells Like Teen Misdemeanor

Gary Fields and John R. Emshwiller report on a shift in how adolescent misbehavior gets punished:

In Texas, a student got a misdemeanor ticket for wearing too much perfume. In Wisconsin, a teen was charged with theft after sharing the chicken nuggets from a classmate’s meal—the classmate was on lunch assistance and sharing it meant the teen had violated the law, authorities said. In Florida, a student conducted a science experiment before the authorization of her teacher; when it went awry she received a felony weapons charge.

Over the past 20 years, prompted by changing police tactics and a zero-tolerance attitude toward small crimes, authorities have made more than a quarter of a billion arrests, the Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates. Nearly one out of every three American adults are on file in the FBI’s master criminal database. This arrest wave, in many ways, starts at school.

Concern by parents and school officials over drug use and a spate of shootings prompted a rapid buildup of police officers on campus and led to school administrators referring minor infractions to local authorities. That has turned traditional school discipline, memorialized in Hollywood coming-of-age movies such as “The Breakfast Club,” into something that looks more like the adult criminal-justice system.

Robby Soave comments:

It’s worth mentioning that violence in schools did decline dramatically over the last two decades. I’m not certain how much of that should actually be attributed to police omnipresence, given that violence declined nationwide, not just in schools. But it would be reasonable to think some amount of policing had a positive impact on the extreme end.

That does not justify what’s happening now. Today, schools are relatively safe environments for kids; there’s no excuse for treating students like prisoners of war. Students are being educated in an environment of absolute non-freedom and petty authoritarianism. Administrators have all the power to ruin their lives over arbitrary enforcement of stupid rules.

Josh Marshall adds some analysis:

[W]e now have a system in which lots of kids end up in the hands of police for things that seem to be obviously things schools should handle on their own – as part of the socialization process that is a key aspect of the school system – rather than calling in the cops. As with the militarization of policing, the trend falls disproportionately and hardest on blacks and other minorities. But it’s notable that it is not restricted to non-whites. It’s general.

But one of of Josh’s readers focuses on race:

In the decades since Brown v. Board, there’s been a massive nationwide exodus of more affluent whites from our public schools. That’s resulted in resegregation, as whites and more well-off families of color tend to send their kids to a parallel school system of private and parochial schools, or to charters and “magnet” schools within the public school system designed to screen out undesirables (though the segregation at most charters runs the other way). So our schools in cities large and small chiefly serve students of color, mostly low- and lower-middle income kids. And as recent research has shown, those kids come in for much harsher punishment for stupidly minor infractions than do white kids — horrifyingly, even in preschool. This is actually something de Blasio’s DoE has been promising to address through revision of the discipline code.

Anyway, I think this accounts for why you don’t see this kind of stuff so much at white private and parochial schools (where neither do you see grueling testing regimens, or homework, or even, a few old-school nuns aside, the kind of wild fetishism of classroom order and discipline that inner city charter schools market themselves with). Fear of a black student.

Our Outstanding Student Loans


J.D. Tuccille flags a report from the Dallas Fed, showing that America’s student loan delinquency rates are still high, even as we get other forms of household debt under control:

Unshockingly, while defaults decline for credit card debt, mortgages and auto loans, they’re on the rise for student loans. “At 10.9 percent, the second quarter 2014 delinquency rate on student loans was more than three times that of mortgages and auto loans, and more than 3 percentage points higher than the rate of serious delinquencies on credit cards.” Apparently, young grads with overpriced sheepskins and no decent jobs in the offing have trouble meeting the tab.

And they’re certainly not about to take on mortgages. John Aravosis points to another new study estimating the impact of student debt on the housing market:

8% fewer homes will transact than normal in 2014, purely due to student debt. … Our conclusion is that 414,000 transactions will be lost in 2014 due to student debt. At a typical price of $200,000, that is $83 billion per year in lost volume.

Meanwhile, an analysis from Pew shows that more students of every class background are graduating college in debt today than 20 years ago:

In the early ’90s, only among graduates from low-income families did a majority of graduates finish college with student debt. Now, solid majorities of graduates from middle-income families (both lower-middle and upper-middle) finish with debt, and half of students from the most affluent quartile of families do the same. … Among recent college graduates who borrowed, the typical amount of cumulative student debt for their undergraduate education increased from $12,434 for the class of 1992-93 to $26,885 for the class of 2011-12 (figures adjusted for inflation). The increase in the median amount of debt by newly minted borrowers between the class of 1992-93 and the 2011-12 varied somewhat by the graduates’ economic circumstances. But regardless of family income, the typical amount owed at graduation increased about twofold over this time period.

Old School

by Dish Staff


Elizabeth Green contends that the US lags behind educational powerhouses such as Finland and South Korea in part because “our school system is earlier”:

It dates back to the 19th century, and in many ways the one-room schoolhouse is the model of our system, where an adult is working alone. One adult. Japan, South Korea, Finland – these were systems that were completely reformed after World War II. There is a lot more modern or contemporary thinking that has gone into these systems. We are still living with the legacy of an early 19th century education system.

Decentralization is another factor:

Those countries also have very strong national governments, so they set standards for the schools and have a much greater power at the level of implementation. Our federal government only controls 13 percent of local school funding. Through incentive programs, the Obama administration has actually been very successful at getting local schools to do things because they want every last dollar they can get. And yet once they promise to do something like evaluate teachers in new ways, there’s actually nobody watching at the implementation level to make sure they do it in a smart, strategic way. We have these top-down reform priorities and the federal government is successful in getting schools to adopt them, but there’s no quality check on that process. That’s fundamentally different than other nations.

Another fundamental difference: the US population is 2.5 times larger than Japan’s, 6 times larger than South Korea’s and a whopping 58 times larger than Finland’s, with far more regional diversity than all three. That vastness certainly makes educational reform more difficult for the US than other national governments.

(Photo: Teacher and children in front of sod one-room schoolhouse in Woods County, Oklahoma Territories, ca. 1895 via National Archives and Records Administration and Wikimedia Commons)