19.12.07

THE ISSUE IS STANDARDS. An Economic Policy Institute snapshot interprets new Bureau of Labor Statistics projections as making no strong case for expanded college enrollment.
The occupational structure of 2006 required that 27.7% of employees have an education at the college degree or higher level. The projected occupational structure in 2016 dictates that 28.7% of employees have a college degree or more at that time, a rise of just 1 percentage point over the next 10 years (see Chart). The share of workers needing 'some college' is projected to not grow at all. Given that 30% of the workforce already has a college degree or more and that education levels will continue to increase, it does not seem that there is any gross inadequacy of workforce education, to say the least, relative to the jobs being created.
Put another way, there may be inefficiently many people in college, although the snapshot suggests a different interpretation of inefficiently few people not in college.
On the other hand, there are clear issues of a lack of opportunity of lower- and middle-income students having access to and completing a college education.
That statement, however, sheds a different light on the notion of merit scholarships in state-supported universities.
In Tennessee, that debate is hot for another reason: The state, which has been faulted for spending most of its aid money without regard to need, is considering plans that would significantly increase spending on low-income students.
I don't see why that has to be an either-or. Perhaps Tennessee could simultaneously reduce capacity and lower the sticker price. At one time, that was the state-university system model. In Wisconsin, the policy provided that there would be a space somewhere in the state systems for any student who finished in the top half of his or her high school class. Admittedly, there was a pecking order, with aptitude tests screening for Madison or Milwaukee, and there was self-selection, with the social set choosing among the converted normal schools on the basis of the anticipated parties. On the other hand, the pecking order wasn't as stratified as it now is: faculties at all the universities viewed themselves as in the same business and there was less of the grooming of future lawyers at some campuses and the cooling out of marks at others. Taxpayers picked up more of the tab, too. Without financial aid, one could work 40 hours a week during the summer and 20 hours a week during the academic year and meet the bills, and much of the financial aid included work-study. There has to be a better way than relying on the lottery.
The aid issue is particularly prickly in states such as Tennessee, Florida and Georgia, where lottery proceeds fund merit awards and where need-based spending lags well behind. According to a 2005-6 report from the National Association of State Student Grant and Aid Programs, Florida spends nearly $3 on aid with a merit component for every $1 on aid that factors students’ financial needs — and the ratio is far more lopsided in Georgia. While states still typically spend more on need-based aid, the trend is moving in the opposite direction.
Does that Florida ratio treat football scholarships as having a merit component?
Merit scholarships have undoubtedly helped institutions gain a competitive edge and keep students who would otherwise go out of state for college, but critics liken the programs to giveaways, seeing that they don’t include an income ceiling for recipients. Some also loathe the idea of working class lottery participants funding college for the more affluent.
As opposed to working-class income- or sales-tax payers, including young adults who went from high school to full-time labor force participation? Whether you call it a merit scholarship, or whether you call it low tuitions with tough admission standards, you can also call it a regressive transfer. But perhaps it's a regressive transfer that makes broadly shared prosperity possible.

Students are eligible for the HOPE scholarship, which provides up to $4,000 per year, if they have a 21 composite ACT score or a cumulative 3.0 grade point average. Those who qualify financially can get an additional $1,500 through the need-based program. Students are eligible for the TSSA award if their expected family contribution is $2,100 or less. In 2006-7, 90 percent of students receiving the award had family income under $30,000, and nearly half were first-generation college students.

Claude Pressnell, president of the independent colleges association, said the HOPE scholarship program serves a different population than does the need-based aid program. Of those who currently receive the assistance award, about one-fourth also receive funding from the lottery award.

Nobody pays list price. It sounds, however, like there are meritorious and poor students. Are they better off under the existing regime than they'd be the way things once were? Perhaps I should run a few numbers and do a follow-up post.
“[Lawmakers] should realize that the lottery scholarship program isn’t the end-all solution to providing financial aid and isn’t the ultimate solution to responding to workforce needs,” he said.
No, the ultimate solution to responding to workforce needs might be to put some of that responsibility back on the high schools, say, by looking very carefully at the transcripts and test scores of any applicant who graduated in the bottom half of their high school class.

Something else occurs to me. Perhaps students and guidance counselors from some districts will argue that a student in the 30th percentile is better than students in the 70th percentile elsewhere. Perhaps that argument comes from the richer districts. I can think of no better time to take a stand: that 30th percentile student will do just fine at Brown.

Pressnell said the proposal has the support of the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation, which administers the state’s education scholarships and grants. He’s also confident that the state’s General Assembly will look favorably at the plan. It’s likely to come up when legislators return in January, he said, because the lawmakers want to tackle the issue before election preparation gets into full swing.

“We’re already seeing a redirection of attention to these needy, qualified students,” he said.

Needy and qualified: not mutually exclusive. Good.
Within the last month, Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen also expressed an interest in allowing low-income students to still receive some aid money if their grades slip. As it stands, students who receive both HOPE scholarship and TSSA funds lose both awards if their college grades far below a certain threshold (Renewal requirements are at least a 2.75 at end of freshman year and at least 3.0 each year thereafter.)
Again: consider the old state university model. Keep it cheap and kick out anybody who doesn't maintain a 2.0 on a four-point grade averaging scale at the end of a year.
Pressnell said some view that requirement as biased against students from lower socioeconomic groups who might need more academic help. One idea is to consider allowing the financially needy students to keep the supplement regardless of grades. Another is to allow the students to receive a portion of the full need-based scholarship based on a sliding scale — with students performing better in the classroom receiving slightly more than their counterparts.
On one hand, don't kick out somebody in good standing for lack of money. On the other hand, don't give the high schools bailouts for their own failures to inculcate proper habits of mind and comportment. That way lies full employment for the pushers of crying towels and the assessment of the obvious and all the other drags on the real mission of higher education. Where there excess capacity in safety schools, excess demand for prestige degrees, and inefficiently many students in college coexist, there must be improvements on business as usual.

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