Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Six Reasons Why Obama's Free Community College Is a Poor Investment

Let’s get this straight. First, we are a nation with an $18 trillion debt that, five years into a business cycle upturn,  that still cannot come close to balancing the federal budget despite Obama-induced tax increases.  Second, we have a very significant problem of overinvestment in higher education that manifests itself in a large proportion (one-third to one-half) of recent college graduates taking jobs that usually go to high school graduates –they are “underemployed,” many of them still living with their parents and dependent on parental financial support. Third, and related to that, for every ten students that enter community college, only three graduate within three years.  Fourth, despite the first three points, President Obama wants to encourage increased community college attendance by making it costless to the consumer.

It is true that around State of the Union time the President usually makes pronouncements about higher education, and that, in the past, little has come of most of his proposals. Still, it is worth mentioning six reasons why this is a monumentally bad idea—and why he proposed it.

First, the federal system of government has worked well in our nation, with the central government doing some things like monetary policy and providing defense and homeland security, and, historically, the states handling other things, like providing highways and schools, albeit with some federal financial assistance. The diverse nature of U.S. higher education is one of its strengths –we have 50 different ways of providing postsecondary education, and the nation has benefited from having diverse approaches. New Hampshire and Massachusetts devote little public money to higher education, but have great private schools; Michigan and California more generously support public universities, and have several great ones. People migrate to the state whose public service provision fits their tastes.

Second, a significant portion of persons going to community colleges come from at least moderately affluent families, and subsidizing their education more than presently is a waste of resources. Truly low income students, for whom financial barriers to college access are real, already receive Pell Grants that typically cover virtually all of community college tuition. Related to that, the evidence is strong that students do better in college when they have “skin in the game,” that is, when they have to pay part of the cost. Thus, even controlling for other factors, students graduate in higher proportions from relatively more expensive private schools than public institutions.

Third, the recent post-graduation job experience is not very good for community college graduates, perhaps one reason why the popularity of these schools is in decline, with enrollments down significantly in the past four years. For many high school graduates, one year training in a certificated jobs program at a private career college, or perhaps at a community college, makes more sense than getting a two year associate degree.

Fourth, why should we give “free” education at public community colleges, while at the same time the Obama Administration, through highly discriminatory regulatory policies, has virtually declared war on for-profit higher education? While the evidence is perhaps mixed, there is a good deal of it that suggests that often students do well going to schools like the University of Phoenix, or Strayer or Ashford universities.

Fifth, as mentioned previously, the U.S. government’s finances are somewhat precarious, which has already led to its first credit downgrade in modern American history. The unfunded liabilities associated with Social Security and Medicare alone reach into the tens of trillions of dollars. We should be seeking ways to shrink those liabilities, particularly given the decline in the proportion of Americans who are working (itself probably largely a manifestation of the modern welfare state). The Obama proposal worsens an already serious fiscal problem.

Finally, the past large expenditures for federal student financial assistance, such as the Pell Grant and student loan programs, have contributed importantly to the tuition fee explosion. Community colleges have been less impacted by this, but it is likely the Obama proposal would lead to a fee explosion at the two year schools.

The Obama idea is probably dead on arrival in the Republican controlled Congress. The President almost certainly knows this. Then why is he proposing it? It is dangerous to impute motives, and I tend to be highly cynical of contemporary politicians. That said, I suspect the President is appealing to his Democratic base, telling them that the entitlement programs they love and want expanded depend on Democratic political control.  I think the President, always partisan, wants to be able to characterized Republicans as insensitive, affluent, selfish persons uninterested in the disadvantaged (a line he has used many times previously, with mixed success). Also, I suspect he wants to develop a historical legacy among liberal historians as the bold president who tried to bring to America the full manifestation of the European style welfare state.


Harvard Prof Blasts Feds’ 'Flawed' Approach to Campus Sex Harassment

Harvard Law Professor Elizabeth Bartholet recently described the federal government’s “flawed” approach to sexual assault policies on the Ivy League campus as “a moment of madness.”
Bartholet was speaking out against recent findings by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) that Harvard Law School was in violation of Title IX for failing to provide a “prompt and equitable” response to sexual harassment complaints.

Harvard’s new school-wide sexual harassment policy, which it crafted in response to pressure from the federal government, was slammed by Bartholet and 27 other Harvard Law School faculty members in an October op-ed in The Boston Globe.

The faculty expressed concern that “Harvard has adopted procedures for deciding cases of alleged sexual misconduct which lack the most basic elements of fairness and due process, are overwhelmingly stacked against the accused, and are in no way required by Title IX law or regulation.”

“The federal government’s decision that Harvard Law School violated Title IX represents nothing more than the government’s flawed view of Title IX law,” which forbids gender discrimination at schools receiving federal aid, Bartholet said in a recent e-mail to The Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog.

“The Department of Education’s (DOE) Office of Civil Rights (OCR), which issued the decision, is not the ultimate decision-maker on law,” she pointed out.

Bartholet, who is an expert on civil rights and family law at Harvard Law, where she has taught since 1977, also condemned the law school's agreement to cooperate with OCR.

“I believe that history will demonstrate the federal government’s position to be wrong, that our society will look back on this time as a moment of madness, and that Harvard University will be deeply shamed at the role it played in simply caving to the government’s position,” she wrote.

“The courts are responsible for interpreting the law,” she explained. “And I trust that the courts will eventually reject the federal government’s current views.

“The courts’ decisions to date, including the U.S. Supreme Court, show a much more balanced approach to sexual harassment, one which recognizes the importance of vindicating the rights of those victimized by wrongful sexual misconduct, while at the same time protecting the rights of those wrongfully accused, and protecting the rights of individual autonomy in romantic relationships.”

President Obama began a push last January for changes to sexual harassment policies on campuses nationwide with an executive order to establish a White House task force to protect students from sexual assault.

In May, Harvard Law School was put on a growing list of schools facing federal investigation by DOE for their handling of sexual abuse allegations. The list increased 50 percent in just six months last year.

However, Bartholet and other members of the Harvard Law School faculty complained that the new policy, which “expands the scope of forbidden conduct” while “lodging…the functions of investigation, prosecution, fact-finding, and appellate review in one office,” is “inconsistent with many of the most basic principles we teach.”

“The goal must not be simply to go as far as possible in the direction of preventing anything that some might characterize as sexual harassment,” they wrote. “The goal must instead be to fully address sexual harassment while at the same time protecting students against unfair and inappropriate discipline, honoring individual relationship autonomy, and maintaining the values of academic freedom.”

“The law that the Supreme Court and lower federal courts have developed under Title IX and Title VII attempts to balance all these important interests,” they noted.

In contrast, “the university’s sexual harassment policy departs dramatically from these legal principles, jettisoning balance and fairness in the rush to appease certain federal administrative officials,” the professors concluded.


UVA Reinstates Fraternity At The Heart Of Rolling Stone’s Gang Rape Fiasco

The University of Virginia has reinstated phi Kappa Psi, the fraternity at the heart of Rolling Stone’s botched gang rape story, after Charlottesville police said the story about an alleged gang rape could not be substantiated (via WaPo):

    “We welcome Phi Kappa Psi, and we look forward to working with all fraternities and sororities in enhancing and promoting a safe environment for all,” Sullivan said in a statement.

    In the wake of the article’s publication online in November the Phi Kappa Psi house was vandalized and the fraternity voluntarily suspended its charter at the university as police investigated the allegations. In December, the fraternity issued a statement denying the claims described in Rolling Stone and noted that its own inquiry into the allegations revealed factual inaccuracies.

    “We are pleased that the University and the Charlottesville Police Department have cleared our fraternity of any involvement in this case,” said Phi Psi president Stephen Scipione, a junior. “In today’s 24-hour news cycle, we all have a tendency to rush to judgment without having all of the facts in front of us. As a result, our fraternity was vandalized, our members ostracized based on false information.”

    Last week, Sullivan announced a new contract between the university and fraternities that included enhanced safety measures for social activities designed to discourage binge drinking. The university said that Phi Psi was the first fraternity to sign the updated agreement, and fraternity officials said that Phi Psi members have participated in a sexual assault awareness program.

Yet, as the Washington Examiner’s Ashe Schow wrote, Captain Gary Pleasants said in an email that the investigation isn’t over; “no substantive basis that the alleged incident occurred at THAT fraternity,” he wrote. “We are still investigating and will release a statement once that investigation has been completed.”

Rolling Stone has yet to fire anyone over this horrific journalistic foul-up. They’re re-reporting the story with the same author, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, who initially misreported the story in their November edition last year.

Erdely hasn't tweeted anything since Nov. 30 of 2014.  Also,  Liz Garber-Paul, a Rolling Stone fact-checker, hasn't tweeted anything since Dec. 1 of last year.


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