Thursday, January 02, 2014

Obama Regulations Disenfranchise Minority, Low-Income College Students

Education is the great equalizer. Yet, while President Obama was talking earlier this month about how minority and underprivileged Americans need a “decent education,” his Department of Education (ED) was pushing more onerous regulations that would have the opposite effect. ED is finalizing the administration’s second attempt at passing “gainful employment” standards that place restrictions on institutions that can receive government funding for its students.

In short, the new rules would require programs that receive government funding to students graduate with less than a 12 percent debt-to-income ratio or a debt-to-discretionary-income ratio of less than 30 percent.

This is another example of the administration’s attempt to constantly pick winners and losers – and dictate via government funding how private organizations should operate. But this is more than government bureaucrats meddling with business; these rules potentially impact the futures of thousands of individuals who are trying to make their lives better.

Take President Obama for example. He graduated from one of the most prestigious law schools in the country – Harvard Law. Doing so, he incurred a debt in excess of $42,000 on tuition of less than $14,000. Since the early 1990s, tuition has increased by 320 percent. Adjusting the President’s debt by the same proportion, his debt would balloon to upwards of $134,000.

The median salary coming out of Harvard Law now: roughly $130,000. That means that the President’s own law program – and one of the premiere programs in the country – would have failed ED’s regulations. But still no red flags for ED or the regulation-heavy Obama Administration.

A study conducted by the Department of Education should have set off more red flags. In that study that looked at college graduates in 2009, a greater proportion of programs at private non-profit institutions would fail the 12 percent threshold than those at for-profit colleges – 39 percent of private graduates faced excessive loan repayments vs. 35 percent of for-profit graduates. And, lest you think public colleges are immune, a full 26 percent of public graduates would face loan payments in excess of 12 percent of income.

What happens to the college system when so many programs – as many as a million – no longer exist? Particularly since a large proportion of the students impacted are from low-income and minority groups?

That potential even has liberal Congressmen concerned. In a letter this week, Congressman Alcee Hastings (D-FL) and 29 other Congressman inquired to the ED for its rationale. In particular, these liberal congressmen were concerned that “the Department’s proposed regulation […] would negatively impact millions of students nationwide.”

But the Congressmen aren’t alone. An Inside Higher Ed/Gallup poll of university presidents said that an overwhelming majority thought the ED’s college rating system was a bad idea. A full half said that the President’s plan would negatively impact their college.

So, if evidence and common sense, as well as those in Congress and the higher education community, tells you this will fail, why is ED pushing it?

Put simply, its symptomatic of the brand of liberalism that is seen everywhere from Mayor Bloomberg’s soda ban to Obama’s quest to kill coal power; the brand of liberalism where leaders tell constituents what is good for them, instead of trusting them to make informed decisions. And this iteration of that disease threatens to disenfranchise low-income and minority students, those who need opportunity the most.


2012 grads: Highest-ever student debt

The Institute for College Access & Success, an independent nonprofit organization based in Oakland, California, recently released its eighth annular report on average student loan debt in the United States, and its findings are dire. College graduates who borrowed for bachelor’s degrees granted in 2012 have an average student loan debt of $29,400, the highest average student loan debt ever on record.

Overall, seventy percent of college seniors graduated with debt in 2012.

“The graduates of 2012 left school and entered repayment at a time of high unemployment,” said Debbie Cochrane, research director at the institute. “In many ways, these graduates were hit from both sides.”

“They went to college during a recession when their family’s ability to pay for college was likely reduced. Now they are graduating from college and may be experiencing substantial challenges getting a job to repay the loans.”

Lynn O’Shaughnessy, an expert on college issues, says the trend isn’t likely to reverse itself anytime soon because the price of higher education continues to rise, while incomes remain flat.

“College costs have always gone up higher than inflation, but the problem we face now is that family incomes are stagnant and they can’t afford it anymore, if they ever did,” said O’Shaughnessy, author of the book The College Solution and a blog of the same name. “It used to be much more affordable.”

Students in certain states are hit particularly hard. For example, average debt is higher for graduates from Pennsylvania ($31,675). Seventy percent of graduates from Pennsylvania public and nonprofit colleges have student loan debt, compared to 41 percent of students graduating from Nevada colleges. The average student debt in New Mexico is just under $18,000.

Mike Morrill, Executive Director for Keystone Progress, an activist network, explains the long term effects: “Even if you are able to get a good job it means that if you’re graduating with $30,000 or more in debt, that means it’s going to be a long time before you get rid of that debt. It makes it harder for you to buy a house, harder to start a business.”

The Times Herald reports that college expenses in Pennsylvania have become outrageously high over the past decade, fueled in part by the “easy money” of student loans and government financial aid. Schools maintain extremely high principals (the cost of tuition) and offset the costs to students, who are expected to take out loans that could potentially permanently bury them in debt.

And student debt, like subprime loans, is a huge moneymaking scheme from which the government is making a pretty penny. Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi reports that the federal government is poised to make $185 billion over the next ten years on student loans.

Before Christmas, Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Jack Reed (D-RI), and Dick Durbin (D-IL) released a slate of proposed reforms aimed at lowering student debt, including a student borrower’s bill of rightsthat would put more emphasis on getting servicers to offer students affordable repayment plans, and a provision that would require schools with lots of struggling borrowers to compensate the government for loan repayment losses.

Businessweek reports the penalty proposed in the Protect Student Borrowers Act of 2013 would affect schools at which at least a quarter of students take out loans, a threshold that would include most institutions. Community colleges would be exempt, along with historically black institutions, according to Inside Higher Ed.


British education boss criticises ‘disconnected’ history lessons

Schoolchildren are struggling to properly differentiate between the ancient Romans, Egyptians and Greeks because of failings in the teaching of history, according to Michael Gove.

Pupils have lost a sense of chronology that allows them to place key dates and civilisations in their historical context, the Education Secretary warned.

He said too much time had been spent teaching children a “disconnected set of topics” with little understanding of how they fit together.

The comments follow the introduction of a controversial new history curriculum for schools in England designed to equip pupils with a broad sweep of British and world history.

Speaking today on BBC Radio 4’s Start the Week, Mr Gove said the move was designed to stop schools “jumping around” between disparate topics.

In further comments, he suggested that Horrible Histories, the books and television series created by Terry Deary, was a useful tool spark interest in “neglected” periods of history in schools such as the 17th century.

Mr Gove also said the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War presented schools with an opportunity to “generate empathy” with the conflict and the role of its generals – instead of simply viewing it through the traditional “prism” of Blackadder and Oh! What a Lovely War.

The new history curriculum – for pupils aged five to 14 – starts with the Stone Age and finishes with the development of the World Wide Web by Sir Tim Berners-Lee.

The document, which will be taught from September 2014, also takes in the Romans, Vikings, Magna Carta, the Reformation, the Civil War, development of the Empire, the Napoleonic Wars, Industrial Revolution, the world wars and creation of the NHS.

It has been criticised by some teachers and academics for promoting a "pub quiz"-style approach to the subject.

But Mr Gove insisted pupils needed a “narrative arc of chronology” that gives them a “wider sense of the impact of Britain on the world and the world on Britain”.

He said: “There’s children, including my own, who can’t remember, well perhaps didn’t even know in the first place, whether the Romans, Egyptians or the Greeks came in which particular order and whether or not the Vikings were their antagonists, protagonists, sons or daughters.

“So in that sense, giving people a sense of chronology is the high priority. But then it’s not enough simply to try to revive ‘1066 and all that’ for the 21st century.

“You have got to make sure that there is room for people to explore subjects which in the past were neglected because of our approach towards our understanding of our own country, and you have also got to encourage critical thinking skills as well.”

Speaking on the programme, Margaret MacMillan, the historian, said the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War in 2014 should be used to give pupils “a sense of respect for those that fought”.

This included an appreciation of Earl Haig who has been “caricatured as this heartless man sitting in his château, drinking champagne while sending men into the mud to die”, she said.

Mr Gove said: “History should – in the broadest sense of the word – generate empathy. That doesn’t mean agreement with how people are and how they operated in the past, but it means understanding of the constraints under which they operated.

“I do think that the influence of Alan Clark’s The Donkeys, Oh What a Lovely War [and] even Blackadder have meant that we see the First World War through a particular prism and if there’s a correction I think that will be helpful.”

On the subject of Horrible Histories, Mr Gove said that the series had been used by his children to learn about Oliver Cromwell and Charles II, adding: “The 17th century has been neglected in the past but has the capacity to interest children like no other period.”

He also rejected suggestions that history should be used to foster a sense of patriotism.

He said: “I love reading the stories of heroes and heroines in the past and I am proud of the role that Britain has played on the world stage… However, there is a difference between my own personal enthusiasms and the responsibility that I have, or any politician would have.

“The thing that I want people to have is an understanding of the past and an ability to analyse. And if students at the end of studying history come out as Maxists who hate the oppressive narrative of baronial rule that is the spine of English history, as long as they love history, I will be delighted.”


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