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Following the debate this past Sunday, you may again be seeking some clarification on the candidates’ proposals on education. This week I will focus on proposals for higher education as well as illuminate some of the issues surrounding such proposals.
Both candidates have put forth proposals for making college more affordable, either by way of increased endowment spending by universities, tuition-free college for families below a specific income level, or refinancing for debts already accrued. On the surface this seems great. I can’t think of a single person who wouldn’t love to see their education debt disappear, or even better, never have acquired it in the first place. But is this something that is in the realm of possibility, and if it is, is it a favorable solution to alleviate the cost of post-secondary education?
Many have doubts that this plan would create the higher education Eden it claims. A main sticking point is concern surrounding the fate of private colleges and universities. Although more students currently attend public universities, the number of students who private institutions is hardly inconsequential. Roughly one quarter of higher education participants attend private schools. How might these private institutions fare if a portion of their enrollment chose instead to attend a public institution? In addition, how will public colleges and universities handle the increased demand?
A recent study at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy estimates that enrollment could increase by as much as 22% at public universities and fall as much as 15% at private universities. Although the highest increases in enrollment would likely be seen at open-access institutions, even the lowest likely percentage increase of 9% could still require accommodating thousands of additional students. Would all of our public higher education institutions be ready for that?
Some economists have suggested that instead of an indiscriminate system of free higher education for all, increased support should be targeted to those students who need the extra assistance. This would require increased availability of financial aid and possibly a reform of the application process, making it easier for students to apply and be informed early on about the process and availability.
Weighing the options, exploring the alternatives, and taking into account how other countries have gone about shaping their post-secondary education systems, it is clear to see that there are many factors that need to be taken into account when deciding feasibility. It is important to remember that there are twelve or thirteen years of schooling that happens before entrance into a college or university. While everyone should have the option to go to college, they can only be as successful as their K-12 education has been in preparing them.
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