Thursday, January 26, 2006

Federal Financial Aid for Students

What are your thoughts on federal financial aid for students?

I never really thought about it before but I was just reading this article online and some Libertarians were decrying it. I'm a Democrat and I wonder if politics really have anything to do with it?

So, thoughts?


Anonymous said...

Karl Rove once said "As people do better, they start voting like Republicans - unless they have too much education and vote Democratic, which proves there can be too much of a good thing."

As such, I highly support ANYTHING that gets people "too much" education.


fictionfiend said...

Well, federal financial aid helped put me through college, so I can't complain about it.

gojiro said...

Like FF said, federal financial aid put me through college. College should not be a privilege of the wealthy; it should be a right for anyone who wants to learn. And with college tuition astronomically high and getting higher, it's tough for even middle class kids to go to college without federal financial aid.

What was the Libertarians' beef against it? Can you link us to the article?

Dave-o-ramA said...

I'm more or less a fan of student loans. I'm more ambivalent on direct grants. However, the ROI on student financial aid is pretty high.

I do think that more emphasis needs to be placed on vocational education for folks who are ill-suited to college. We shouldn't be substituting college for high-school, as a general education goal for everyone.

Some libertarians (and that should be small-l libertarian as a philosophy of governance, not the big-L Libertarian Party which is as different as environmentalist and Green Party) feel that it is distorting the market for education, leading it to be unresponsive and far more expensive than it has been in the past. Others just oppose government spending for anything other than police and a purely defensive military.

There's not a lot of discussion in the article in question. It's just one commenter's post in a blog entry on the Bush administration's hostility to a group questioning the policy of denying financial aid to students who have drug convictions.

Here's the link:

The blog in question is Reason's Hit & Run blog:

SerenitySprings said...

The Reason blog is what got me to thinking about it and I did some Google searches to try and find out more. Thanks Dave, for answering OhioDave for me.

Sandy said...

I'm not going to say it's automatically bad, but it's not a self-evident good, either. There are serious drawbacks to the system, especially from the libertarian perspective:

Do you think maybe the fact that there is such easy credit to go to school might have something to do with rising tuition costs? After all, you don't care how much it costs when you buy it, just when you have to pay it off. So since you don't have to make your first payment until much, much later (at low, low interest rates), you don't have any reason to squawk at the high tuition now.

It's also a logical fallacy to say "well, X was good for me, therefore it's good for everybody." If the government were to confiscate all of your incomes and give them to me, it would be freakin' great for me (even if you only earn a dollar a year). It's free money as far as I'm concerned, and so I'd be much in favor of continuing that policy. But it wouldn't be a good policy, for reasons that have nothing to do with whether or not it's good for me.

As for college being a privilege of the wealthy--how many poor people make it through the Ivy League? It's not student loans that gets that tiny percentage through, but scholarships. Those are unrelated to government-subsidized student loans. The rich will always find a way to discriminate and get something better. That something may not simply be called "college" but it might be called "a college that will get you a guaranteed job after you graduate."

None of this is to say it's automatically a bad thing overall, but it is worth thinking about the tradeoffs that exist with it. Jobs that would have required a high school diploma (an education system that's available to anyone who wants it, despite financial status--yet it's the worst system in the industrialized world, and far behind most developing country systems) now require a college degree. Those that required a college degree now require a Master's. And so on.

So what you've done is make the burden on someone who wants a decent-paying job they have loans on top of everything else when they get their first job. Muffy and Biff can live in a spare wing of the old folks' mansion until they can afford a downpayment on a Madison Avenue condo, but Zeke and Lulabell are gonna have a harder time of it.

Then there's the issue that blog post was talking about: government strings. Anybody in power, even scary idiots who nonetheless went to Yale (see? the money is for access and discrimination, not quality) can tie the money to whatever policy they want. Even if they can't explicitly say "no people with a skin tone darker than X", they can manipulate rules like the drug testing or other things to accomplish largely the same goal. Do you really think attempting to weed out gays is far behind? This kind of federal aid is the only excuse they need to regulate private institutions that might be perfectly OK with dark-skinned or non-straight people. Getting rid of the student loans would mean getting rid of a lot of federal red tape that goes along with them, fueling the Jesse Helmses of the world to attempt to remake it in their white straight male image. The reporting requirements also drive up costs, further making it unaffordable for those who don't win the student loan lottery.

Is all of that worth it? As long as our public education system remains one of the worst on the planet, I'd argue yes. We have to make up for that education gap, and since our universities are among or are the top in the world, it's better to depress everybody's effective wages in order to provide an actual education as opposed to the pretend one that happens at Metal Detector High.