Thursday, August 30, 2012

"Higher Education Bubble Spawns Demographic Decline Among Educated Americans"‏

The Washington Times takes note of the burgeoning higher education bubble in a recent editorial:

The cost of a college education has soared far in excess of the cost of health care. This is in spite of — or, more accurately, because of — massive government involvement in subsidizing and running schools. . . Doing more of the same isn’t a realistic answer. America is in the midst of what University of Tennessee Prof. Glenn Reynolds calls the “higher education bubble.” As with the housing bubble, cheap credit is the primary culprit in inflating the price of schooling. Federal student loans subsidized by taxpayers have made learning more expensive, not more affordable.

The Cato Institute’s Neal McCluskey estimates federal student aid increased by 372 percent between 1985 and 2010, from just under $30 billion to almost $140 billion. To put it another way, as Mr. McCluskey explains, “Taxpayer-funded outlays per degree rose from $58,755 in 1985 to $78,347 in 2010.” This flow of cheap money corresponded with rapid growth in tuition at rates well above average inflation. Mr. Reynolds reports that college tuition grew at almost 7.5 percent annually between 1980 and 2010, when average inflation was 3.8 percent. At less than 6 percent annually, even health care costs grew at a slower rate than the university tab.

Young people aren’t getting much in exchange for this huge outlay. While enrollment has increased, completion rates remain dismal. Barely a third of students complete their degrees in four years, and less than 60 percent earn their degree in six years, according to Mr. McCluskey. That means at least two out of five enrollees don’t finish and fail to reap the benefits of a post-high-school education. Even those who complete their programs of study and are fortunate enough to find employment find that in one out of three cases, their degree isn’t required for their work.

Earlier, I wrote about how exponentially growing student loans are driving up tuition and creating a demographic time bomb as well as a higher-education bubble that could explode in taxpayers’ faces.

As college costs and student loan debt soar (partly due to opulent university spending) and unemployment rises, young college graduates, crushed by student loan debt, are deciding not to have kids, resulting in demographic decline among the educated in America.  In recent years, student loan debt has skyrocketed from $100 billion to nearly $1 trillion, creating a potential debt bomb for the American economy.

France and England now have higher birth rates than America.  College-educated people in their 20s are definitely more likely to have kids there.  “American fertility is now lower than that of France” and the United Kingdom, notes The Economist, even though American fertility was higher than France or England in 2007.

Why the recent change?  Could it be because college graduates in England and France have less student loan debt? Tuition is lower there.  Per capita expenditures are lower at their elite schools. France and England spend much less on physical plant for colleges and universities. Faculty salaries don’t get as high there.

The buildings at my French-born wife’s alma mater don’t look very impressive, although she studied and learned a lot there.  If a French university outwardly looks more like a high school than a Harvard, that’s OK with them.  What matters to them is the learning that takes place within, not whether it looks like a college marketer’s movie-set image of what a university should look like. French students also study a lot more than American students, so they may be more accustomed to not having spare time (something that may help prepare them to have kids after they graduate, since parents of young children have little free time).

U.S. colleges are borrowing lots of money for fancy, unnecessary facilities, gambling that they can pay the interest on their increased debt by increasing tuition on future students.  This is already resulting in growing numbers of American universities facing “financial trouble,” notes The Economist.

As USA Today noted earlier, American college students learn less and less with each passing year, according to recently-released research. “Thirty-six percent” of college students learned little in four years of college, and students now spend “50% less time studying compared with students a few decades ago, the research shows.” Thirty-two percent never take “a course in a typical semester where they read more than 40 pages per week.”  Less time spent studying gives students more time to work to pay their inflated tuition.

Actions by the Obama administration have increased college costs and driven up tuition. The administration has also discouraged vocational training needed for high-paid, skilled manufacturing work, contributing to a severe shortage of skilled factory workers — thus making it harder for factories to expand their operations and hire workers, including the unskilled workers among whom unemployment remains highest.

Countries’ success has little to do with how many of their citizens graduate from college. As Washington Post economics columnist Robert Samuelson notes, “Some robust economies have workforces with a much smaller share of college degree-holders than the United States.”  Tuition in American universities has also been driven up by the cost of administrative bloat, such as the growth of a vast and costly “diversity machine” in college administrations, and red tape that results in some colleges having more administrators than teachers.


Teachers unions’ pressure is failing

Hearing teachers unions complain about extending school choice to American families is nothing new. They have been spreading misinformation about efforts to break up their monopoly on education for years. With millions of students going back to school, we can, unfortunately, expect them to turn up the volume.

Yet every year, the unions’ grip on power loosens. Scholarships, education savings accounts, vouchers and other reform efforts keep proliferating. Worse, from the unions’ point of view, school choice keeps growing in popularity among parents and students. Forty-four percent of Americans now favor allowing students the option of attending private schools at public expense. That is up 10 percentage points from last year.

Small wonder that the Louisiana Association of Educators threatened last month to sue private parochial schools in the state that plan to accept voucher students this fall, or that the union-supported Obama administration has supported a plan to give federally issued paychecks directly to local teachers. Desperation must be setting in.

The calls for more taxpayer money persist despite the huge increases in federal education spending over the past decade. President Obama’s fiscal 2013 budget request included another major increase for the Department of Education — 2.5 percent more than last year — to nearly $70 billion.

We’re now spending an average of $11,400 per student, a record amount. Yet test scores and other measurements of academic achievement continue to lag.

Given this state of affairs, we should be glad school choice is on the rise. Among the promising signs we see:

New Hampshire is one of 11 states to offer scholarships for underprivileged students to attend private schools. Parents unhappy with their local public schools have a choice. They can do something to get their children into schools they feel would better meet their needs. Businesses and individuals who donate to private-school scholarship funds receive sizable tax credits. The scholarships average $2,500 for students whose families earn up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level.

South Carolina has a tuition tax-credit program that lets children attend schools that are right for them. Who is eligible for the tax credit? Anyone who donates to the privately funded scholarships that have been set up for low-income and special-needs students. The program gives tax deductions of up to $4,000 to families to help cover the cost of sending their children to private schools, $2,000 for home schooling and $1,000 to help with expenses related to sending their children to out-of-district public schools.

North Carolina is home to an elementary school that has used online learning to move from the middle of the pack on student achievement into a tie for second place on state tests. In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, Juan Williams explains how:

“All of their textbooks, notes, learning materials and assignments are computerized, allowing teachers and parents to track their progress in real time. If a student is struggling, their computer-learning program can be adjusted to meet their needs and get them back up to speed. And the best students no longer wait on slow students to catch up. Top students are constantly pushed to their limits by new curricular material on their laptops.”

Home schooling. Heritage Foundation education analyst Lindsey Burke says it may be the fastest-growing form of education in the United States, rivaled only by charter schools. Data from the U.S. Department of Education show a 74 percent increase in home schooling since 1999 alone, with approximately 1.5 million children (2.9 percent of school-age children) being home-schooled in 2007. The numbers have only grown since then. Some analysts place the number of home-schooled children at more than 2 million.

These and other encouraging trends suggest that the status quo in education won’t necessarily remain the status quo much longer. The trend is flowing away from government control — and toward parental control.

“Parents are the first and the most important educators of their own children,” Pope John Paul II once said. “They also possess a fundamental competence in this area; they are educators because they are parents.” They, not Washington, are the ones who should be directing education. The more our education policy reflects this truth, the better off our children will be.


British govt.  slashes health and safety guidance for schools

More than 95 per cent of health and safety guidance issued to schools has been slashed as part of a Coalition purge on red tape, figures show.

Under Labour, teachers were issued with 150 pages of guidelines designed to keep pupils safe in the classroom and on school trips but the number has since been cut to just eight, it has emerged.

The drop was outlined as official figures revealed for the first time the extent to which education bureaucracy has been reduced over the last two years.  In total, more than three-quarters of official edicts issued schools under the last Government have now been abolished.

State primaries and secondaries in England are now issued with just 6,978 pages of guidance compared with 28,455 pages previously.

Axed documents include the all-out abolition of a 200-page guide to “reducing bureaucracy”, while guidance on “improving pupil performance” has been cut from 2,524 pages to just 174. Another volume on “pedagogy and practice“ has been reduced from 1,959 pages to 63.

The Coalition has faced criticism over its drive to cut education guidance.

Earlier this year, Jamie Oliver, the TV chef, claimed that the Government was jeopardising pupils’ health after announcing that a new wave of academies and free schools would be exempt from nutritional standards governing school dinners.

This month, it was revealed the ministers had abolished school sports survey – including a target that pupils must complete two hours of PE a week – prompting claims that it would undermine the Olympic legacy.

But Elizabeth Truss, the Conservative MP for South West Norfolk, who obtained the figures following a series of Parliamentary questions, said the last Government “bombarded teachers with bureaucratic, unreadable guidance” that actually undermined education standards.

“28,000 pages of guidance is not only a massive burden, it also diminishes the trust and responsibility that should be given to teachers,” she said.

“This Government has made huge strides towards reducing the burden of guidance on schools, slashing the total by three-quarters.”

New figures show that teachers are no longer given guidance on handling the media. In the past, they were issued with 188 pages on the subject.

Guidance on health and safety has been dramatically trimmed to just eight pages. This follows concerns that some schools were axing traditional science experiments or school trips amid fears over safety rules.

The number of pages of guidance on science, technology, engineering and maths was cut from 765 pages to nothing, while documents relating to work-based learning were also axed altogether.

Other guidance cut significantly relates to issues such as admissions, attendance, behaviour, the curriculum, equality, finance, qualifications, special needs, staffing and target setting.


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