Contrary to popular belief, the evidence indicates that the cost of tuition prevents very few students from pursuing a college degree. The problem isn't that students can't afford college — it's that not enough students possess the academic qualifications necessary even to apply. This cannot be fixed through better financing for tuition: It requires reforming K-12 education.

That's Jay Greene and Marcus Winters commenting on Senator Kerrey's latest proposal to get cheap labor for public works projects in exchange for lower tuitions at college.
Using data provided by the U.S. Department of Education, a recent study by the Manhattan Institute estimated the number of students in the nation who were college ready. The study found that nationally only 32 percent of students leave high school prepared to apply to college. The picture is particularly bleak for minorities: Just 20 percent of African-American students and 16 percent of Hispanic students are even eligible to apply to a four-year college at the end of high school.

The defect rate in primary and secondary education is apparently almost as bad as the defect rate in the universities themselves.
For the high-school class of 2000, that translates to an estimated 1,298,920 who were college-ready, a figure very close to the 1,341,000 students who actually enrolled in college for the first time in that year. The same is true for minority groups: Hispanic students make up about 9 percent of the college-ready population and about 7 percent of students entering college; African Americans make up about 9 percent of all college-ready students and about 11 percent of incoming freshmen. The pattern is similar for white and Asian students as well.

This indicates that there is not a large pool of students who are academically qualified to apply to college but who are prevented from doing so by a lack of funds — or by anything else, for that matter. Just about all students who are academically able to go to college do go to college.

King at SCSU Scholars quips that he has just finished grading the exams for all the students that didn't belong in college.

The column continues,
Thus no plan can increase college participation simply by providing greater access to funds. And since nearly all minority students eligible to enroll in college already do, attempting to increase their number by expanding affirmative-action policies is similarly futile.

Number 2 Pencil picks up the column to observe that the K-12 must be fixed first.

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