If you’re a student, you know that there’s a crisis in higher education. College tuition has increased 12-fold since 1978, and students are burdened by more than $1 trillion in student loan debt.
Even though President Barack Obama introduced a plan last week to add value to higher education, his proposal won’t address the core problem. In fact, it invites a parade of unintended consequences.
Obama’s plan would tie federal aid to metrics such as graduation rates. But this would only water down academic quality, incentivizing college administrators to lower standards and encouraging professors to give “Gentleman’s C’s” to students who deserve a failing grade. The more students who graduate, administrators might think, the more federal aid their university will receive.
If you think professors wouldn’t go along with this plan, ask yourself where their salaries come from.
Additionally, many universities will presumably submit phony data to the government to receive more funding. If you think I am being cynical, consider actions taken by universities – including our own, which admitted to submitting inaccurate data about class rankings – to achieve high placements on the overhyped U.S. News and World Report rankings list.
Ninety-one percent of admissions directors believed other institutions were submitting false data, according to a 2012 Inside Higher Ed survey. If so many universities are presumably willing to go to great lengths to jump ahead a few spots on the U.S. News rankings, imagine what they’ll do if their financial livelihoods are dependent on such metrics.
But there are better solutions to cutting college costs than the one Obama proposed.
Costs are skyrocketing because universities can raise tuition indiscriminately, because they think that Uncle Sam will cover the entire cost with financial aid. Instead, the government should only provide financial aid for tuition increases at the inflation rate, which is hovering at around 2 percent. Because many students rely on federal financial aid to pay for their education, this will put pressure on universities to keep their costs down and force schools to compete with each other based on tuition price.
Of course, some university administrators will complain that such cost controls are unrealistic. But can anyone take such an argument seriously when schools have been spending money renovating football stadiums, providing vacation homes for faculty and paying premiums for high profile speakers?
The higher education lobby would fiercely oppose such a reform proposal. But when it comes down to it, is federal support for higher education supposed to serve us or them?
Pooya Hajibagheri is a second-year law student.
This article appeared in the August 29, 2013 issue of the Hatchet.