Wednesday, December 30, 2015

We Need to Get Past Simplistic Higher Ed Policy Debates

Contemplating repaying those student loans / Francisco Osorio, CC BY 2.0 

A friend passed along this great, detailed New York Times op-ed by law prof Paul Campos, where he critically examines the prevailing conventional wisdom that skyrocketing higher ed tuition (and student loan debt) is due to eroding state support for higher education. If you, like me, are interested in these issues and missed this back in April, give it a read.

Higher education policy is one of those areas where public - and legislative - debate often boils down to painfully simplistic talking points that completely obscure the *real* sources of our problems with achieving efficient allocation of tax dollars, optimized investment in our people (or our workforce, for those who think talking about "people" is too warm and fuzzy), etc.  The old polarized arguments - We need to support education! vs. Grads make a lot of money & should pay for their own degrees! - don't cut it.

I've been suspicious of the claim that the skyrocketing tuition/fees and increasing student loan burdens are due - or even mostly due - to dwindling state support.  My suspicion is compouded by the reality that we've seen similar inflation in the private schools, who've long seemed to be in a bidding war to prove how "prestigious" they are through their pricing ... and we've seen public graduate and professional programs follow suit.

Heck, some of us witnessed this phenomenon *during* our enrollment in a professional program ... in-state tuition at University of Washington Law TRIPLED between the time my classmates and I were admitted in 2002 and my graduation three years and some months later.  The justification was, in large part, based on arguments that our rates should keep pace with the Berkeleys, Michigans, Virginias, and other "top" public law schools.  I just looked up the current tuition/fees figure - and it's almost doubled again in the past 10 years since I graduated.  UW Law's in-state tuition is now $31,980 per year!  That's about 4.6 times what it cost when I was admitted in 2002.

Yet another aspect of our political and economic system that is seriously broken ... 

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