I've long struggled with the social welfare effects of public subsidies to education, which lower the price to the student whilst giving those students the opportunity to prosper, sometimes with the assistance of taxes collected from their less intellectually gifted or less advantaged counterparts who went into the workforce out of high school.  Now comes (well, it was a long time ago in blog years, but I'm working off the backlog of posts) Jordan Weissmann of The Atlantic claiming, "No, Public Spending on Higher Education Isn't Regressive."
Is State U. is overfull of upper-income kids? Well, not quite.

The trouble is that a huge chunk 0f college goers aren't actually 18-year-olds living off an allowance from mom and dad. At four-year public institutions,about 36 percent of students are considered financially "independent," which is a catch-all category for people who break the typical undergraduate mold. How so? You can qualify as independent a few ways, including if you're married, over the age of 24, an orphan, are a military veteran, or have your own children. But the key part is this: Everyone assumes you'll be paying your own way through school (and as a result, you might receive more financial aid).

Do all of these students really survive solely on the strength of their own bank accounts? Not at all. There are surely many veterans attending college with help from their families. Same goes for 26-year-olds, and even some single parents. And therein lies the trouble with figuring out how wealthy independent students actually are: since nobody asks how much their parents earn, we don't truly know how much of a financial cushion they have to rely on.

But there are some things we do know about them. First, they skew low-income, at least based on their own earnings. Almost half of them support their own dependents, like spouses and children.
To some extent, though, the institutions that hold themselves in high regard are part of the story.  College Insurrection picks up a Slate article to the effect that there are relatively few veterans enrolled at such institutions, and that institutional research doesn't seem terribly interested in quantifying the presence of veterans.  And despite the draw-down of the armed forces in the era of hope and change and peace in Asia Minor leading to an increase in veterans using their college benefits, it is still the mid-majors and regional comprehensives that are taking the lead in being veteran-friendly universities.  Thus, those institutions have the responsibility to behave like institutions of higher learning, rather than like sub-prime party schools.

No comments: