19.6.19

A CASE FOR MORE TRADE-TESTED BETTERMENTS?

Matt "Dean Dad" Reed doesn't like imposing accountability on institutions of higher education by making the colleges co-signers on student loans.
It’s the sort of idea that sounds good if you assume that every college is affluent, every student graduates, recessions don’t exist, nobody ever transfers, everybody can afford to attend full-time and has no other economic obligations, everybody is fluent in English, and we have unit-record data for every student in the country.  Also, you’d have to forget everything you know about racial disparities in wealth and income, the open-access mission of community colleges, and basic fairness. Other than that, it’s not half bad.
He's correct, life sometimes gets in the way, and students might have to take on family responsibilities or transfer or get hit by a recession.

It's true, we could rethink that open access mission, although that's not in the intellectual makeup of community college administrators.
Institutionally, it would be hard to come up with a more potent weapon for destroying any sort of open-access institution.  [Columnist Carlo] Salerno briefly acknowledges that, pointing out that “public community colleges would surely resist,” before assuring us that the loss of access is merely a “trade-off.”  A trade-off for what, exactly, is left unspecified. He suggests that legislatures could protect open-access institutions by giving them more money. Well, yes, they could.  They could do that now, and avoid student loans entirely. There’s an entire movement dedicated to exactly that.
Yes, and once upon a time it was possible for a student to make expenses at a state university with a factory job in the summer and a half-time campus job during the school year.  That's not the case any more.  Perhaps, though, "access" ought not be a polite way of saying "admit unprepared students;" and those student loan defaults for lack of effort might have originated in the common schools, thus before you put the colleges on the hook for loan defaults, put the high schools on the hook for remedial courses.  It might all be futile, anyway, as long as the default setting for common culture is "trashy and splintery."

But keep reading the dean's column.  It's not just another set-piece battle between competing visions of higher education.
To see just how awful Salerno’s proposal would be in implementation, look at health care.  There’s an entire industry devoted to cost-shifting. HMO’s make money by not paying bills.  Doctors and hospitals fight back by hiring more administrative staff -- usually the enemy of cost-cutters, but never mind that -- to dot every i and cross every t.  HMO’s respond by raising the bar, muddying the waters, and generally being as evasive as possible. I personally had an HMO decline at first to pay for my daughter’s birth, on the grounds that her name and social security number weren’t on the original enrollment form.  They weren’t, because she hadn’t been born yet when I enrolled. The multiple hours that a staffer from HR spent on the phone, explaining that a new person is a predictable consequence of birth, represented a deadweight cost to the college. This is not a productive use of resources.
No, but it's what you'd expect in an activity beset by cost-evasion, which is what third party payments lead to.  Student aid, health "insurance" (it really isn't, but that would be a digression), nobody knows what the relevant price is.  Be grateful there isn't a Tourist Protection and Affordable Cruising Act.
Any college faced with this rule, and trying to survive, would quickly turn its back on the people who need it most.  It wouldn’t even have to do it explicitly. Just target recruitment in some areas and not others, offer documentation only in one language, only have classes during the day, and you could easily shut out the riskiest populations.  It’s been done before. We know the drill.
Yes. That's an unintended consequence of Medicaid reimbursement rates, too.

Risk management, however, is part of curating an entering class.
Oddly for someone from a conservative perspective, Salerno’s proposal discounts individual responsibility entirely.  Every professor has had the student who simply can’t be made to care. Every professor has had the student who’s just passing through.  Why let students entirely off the hook? If a student spends a few months doing the thousand-yard stare before dropping out, never having cracked a book, why punish the college for it?
Perhaps Mr Salerno doesn't want to punish the college for admitting disengaged students. He wants to discourage colleges from admitting disengaged or unprepared students in the first place.

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