Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Crony college capitalism

Besides studying Saul Alinsky, President Obama has apparently studied Antonio Gramsci, the Italian Marxist theorist who urged his fellow Marxists to go into education, the better to turn regular schools into training grounds for future radicals. Since its earliest days, the Obama regime has been concerned with extending its power in the realm of college education, giving economic rewards to college teachers and students, who are overwhelmingly Obama supporters.

Indeed, a recent piece in the New York Times suggests that Obama’s reelection campaign strategy now explicitly recognizes that it has to give up the white working class, except the tiny 7% that is unionized, hence able to contribute largely to the campaign. The working class was once a mainstay of the Democratic Party coalition. The new Democratic Party will consist of statist-inclined college educated groups such as professors, teachers, school and college administrators, therapists, lawyers, librarians, social workers, artists and designers, and their numerous dependents, along with key ethnic minorities.

You can see this calculation at play in Obama’s recent decision to kill the Keystone XL pipeline. The decision cost tens of thousands of blue-collar jobs, but it mightily pleased the environmental lobby, disproportionately college educated folks of statist mindset.

The tactics the Regime is using to corrupt higher education policy for its own benefit are the same it has used elsewhere: identify cronies, expand the size and scope of federal subsidies to them, and expand the size and scope of regulation to attack the cronies’ competitors. More succinctly, the Regime’s crony capitalist game in higher education is — as it is everywhere else — one of rewarding supporters and attacking their (and hence its) enemies.

Start with the rewards for the cronies. One of the Regime’s major “educational” initiatives was its socialization of the student loan industry, which happened just two years ago. A troika of key Regime players — Obama, Rep. George Miller (D-CA), and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) — ended private funding of government-backed student loans (the most common student loans), under the theory that the private lenders (read: banks) were greedy, i.e., only after profits, and not truly interested in helping students achieve a decent education. Government, of course, is run by people incapable of greed, and motivated entirely by their concern for others.

The scheme included the usual outrageous accounting trick. Sympathetic congressmen claimed that by nationalizing student loans, they would “save” $87 billion over 11 years. In the same way, nationalizing GM and Chrysler has “saved” billions, and Obamacare will “save” even more. At the time, the CBO had dutifully scored the savings at $87 billion, but the Director of the CBO, Douglas Elmendorf, had signaled Congress (in a letter to Senator Judd Gregg) that the scoring did not reflect the risk that defaults could be higher than projected. But the Regime pushed its phantom “savings” with a straight face. It even used them to write down part of the costs of Obamacare and justify an expansion of educational Pell Grants (about which more below).

A posteriori experience from the student loan nationalization confirms what a priori economic reasoning would naturally suggest: the government generally runs things less efficiently than the private sector does. The Department of Education now reports that the default rate on student loans has surged by about one-fourth, from 7% in 2008 to 8.8% in 2009. Worse, because of another government accounting trick, these figures are deceptively low. The government loan program has options that allow some students to pay less that they really owe (these options are euphemistically called “income contingent” and “income based” repayment plans).

Besides rewarding its likely supporters with student loans, the Regime moved to expand the Pell Grant program — to double its funding, in fact. And it is resisting the efforts by the Republicans in the House of Representatives to rein in the program by requiring that recipients have a high school diploma or GED(!).

As a consequence of these policies, and the fact that in deciding who gets student loans the government doesn’t bother looking at the students’ assets or credit histories, the aggregate amount of college student debt has risen dramatically — up by 25% over the past three years, a time, please note, during which Americans generally reduced their personal debt load by 9%. Student debt now exceeds total consumer credit card debt. It now tops $1 trillion.

Of course, the Regime has revealed a solution for the problem it helped so much to create. It proposes to roll forward a law that helps college students mitigate and even get out of their student loan debts. Under current law, students must make monthly payments of 15% of discretionary income, with the balance of their loans forgiven after 25 years. (“Forgiven” means, of course, that the taxpayer eats the remaining cost of a college degree that mainly benefits the degree holder personally.) A law passed by Congress in 2010 and scheduled to take effect in 2014 will drop payments to 10%, with the balance of the loan forgiven after 20 years. Obama now wants this to take effect starting next year — which just happens to be his re-election year.

This is all on top of an existing program that allows students who enter “public service” (read: students who go to work for government or other nonprofit agencies — both areas in which employees tend overwhelmingly to vote Democrat) to have their loans forgiven after only 10 years. All of these “forgiveness” programs are projected to cost the treasury $575 million a year — quite unforgiving for the taxpayer.

Moreover, Obama is now proposing that students be able to combine their older (pre-Regime-takeover), federally-backed private loans together with the new government loans under a new lower interest as well as under the new rules.

All this is obviously aimed at buying the votes of all college students, but especially appealing to the ones whose degrees — say, in social studies, humanities, ethnic studies, women’s studies, and so on — make it likely they won’t earn high enough salaries to pay off the loans in 20 years....

Much more here

British crackdown on bad teachers branded a failure as figures reveal just four a week are being fired

Only four incompetent teachers are being sacked a week, despite David Cameron’s pledge to crack down on poor standards. Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show that 154 teachers at primary and secondary schools in 82 council areas were dismissed in the past 18 months.

If the pattern is repeated across the 448,000 teachers employed by all of England’s 152 councils, that works out at some 200 a year, or four a week.

The figure is far fewer than the 15,000 incompetent teachers that former chief inspector of schools Chris Woodhead has estimated exist. The FOI answers revealed that of the 740 teachers subject to complaint in the past 18 months, 154 were sacked, 174 resigned, 132 cases are unresolved and the rest stayed in post or retired. Some had received a written warning.

After the election the Coalition promised to tackle the scourge of bad teachers, and the Education Act streamlines procedures for dismissing them.

But Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said not enough was being done. ‘Too many poor teachers remain in their jobs year after year after year,’ he said. ‘They do harm. We owe it to the children to intervene effectively.

‘At present, it’s nearly impossible to prove a teacher is bad. On top of this, powerful unions fight on behalf of teachers.’

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said that while the dismissal rate was low, teachers accused of poor standards are being ‘managed out of the classroom’ in other ways.


Australia: Negligent government college kills girl

And then does a coverup

A coroner has described a New South Wales TAFE report on the death of a student in a horse fall as being "not worth the paper it was written on".

Deputy state coroner Sharon Freund said jillaroo [cowgirl] student Sarah Waugh died from head and neck injuries after falling from a bolting horse that was unsuitable for a beginner.

In March 2009 the 18-year-old from Newcastle was learning to ride as part of a TAFE jillaroo course at Dubbo in the NSW central west.

The coroner criticised TAFE for not being thorough enough in assessing horses used for beginner riders and said the ex-racehorse Dargo had been obtained for use just days after running in a race.

Ms Waugh fell from the horse after it bolted in a paddock and she was unable to stop it.

The coroner said TAFE staff gave conflicting evidence at an inquest and that the teacher supervising Ms Waugh had little formal experience in teaching beginners how to ride.
Sarah Waugh in her Jillaroo gear, just days before she was killed falling from a horse in 2009. Photo: Sarah Waugh's parents hope her death becomes a legacy to help improve safety. (ABC)

Ms Freund said the TAFE investigation and report on the death was inadequate.

"That investigation and subsequent report failed to uncover or identify any failure of any workplace practices or procedures," she said. "The investigation and subsequent report was essentially not worth the paper it was written on."

Outside Glebe Coroners Court, Ms Waugh's father Mark welcomed the findings. "We feel relieved... relieved that the truth is finally out there. It's been a long process for us," he said.


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