Higher Ed: Profit, Price, & Performance


Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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84 Responses

  1. Avatar Snarky McSnarksnark says:

    I supported the administration initiative strongly. There are many, many “colleges” out there whose sole raison d’etre is to hoover up federal financial aid, with not a thought given to the ostensible student, or their ability to repay the loans. I have a couple of friends who have worked for schools like this, and their management is beyond cynical.

    I really don’t understand why the Federal government should be obligated by the courts to give money away indiscriminately. Certainly, no private party, or scholarship, could be so required. Can one of our many lawyers help explain the reasoning of the court?Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      A part of it was poorly drafted and it undermined the law itself. Basically, if they can go back to the drawing board and come up with something more substantive to determine which schools are worthy of funding, they should be okay.Report

  2. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    Like Will in the OP, I do not have a problem with the concept or even the price tag associated with a for-profit college. My primary problem is with the concept of open enrollment, which holds the promise and lure of a college degree out to a class of people who are simply never going to reach the level of educational achievement necessary for a bachelor’s degree to be meaningful — and which does so at the cost of saddling them with substantial debt that they will have difficulty repaying.

    Which is why it’s too bad that the district court judge struck down the rule in question here. Now, I cannot say after a cursory reading of the opinion that he decided the case incorrectly; the numbers within the rule do indeed seem to have been effectively pulled out of the air. But there really ought to be some kind of a rule, and the standards for accreditation ought to be significantly higher for universities that have open-enrollment policies precisely because by adopting an open-enrollment policy, that institution is admitting students who very well may lack the foundational skills to succeed at higher education.

    Also — thanks to a tip about WGU from the author of this post, Mrs. Likko has enrolled at that institution to complete her degree. The coursework starts in a couple of weeks and so far I’m favorably impressed with the proficiency-based model upon which the school is based. We’ll see how it works in practice, but this is a different approach to education than, say, the for-profit institution illustrated in the header. We’ll see how it works out, and we’re optimistic. If I’m satisfied with the model myself, I may well look into supplemental employment as a subject matter mentor.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      Also — thanks to a tip about WGU from the author of this post, Mrs. Likko has enrolled at that institution to complete her degree.

      Happy to hear it (unless it’s awful, in which case I was drunk when I gave her the tip and cannot be held responsible)! Keep me posted. As I mentioned, it is something I am considering for myself.Report

  3. Avatar James B Franks says:

    This is a big loss for the for profit college industry. The judge basically said everything the DoE wanted to do was legal, however the means testing they came up with was not. So they have to develop a better test.Report

  4. Avatar Kazzy says:

    If I opened up Kazzy College tomorrow, offering a handful of degrees in exchange for term papers submitted online, can my “students” get federal funds to pay my $50K/year tuition?Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      You have to get accredited. The (in)famous Pensacola Christian College, for instance, is ineligible (despite having one of the nicest-looking campuses I have ever seen).Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        Who does the accreditation?Report

        • Avatar Snarky McSnarksnark says:

          The McSnarksnark Bureau of Good Colleges n’Shit.Report

        • Avatar Burt Likko says:

          There’s somewhere between dozen to twenty private companies that have contracts with the Federal Department of Education to accredit institutions of higher learning.Report

          • Avatar Kazzy says:

            Couldn’t the DoE end their contracts with those companies that accredit universities that aren’t up to snuff?Report

            • Avatar Will Truman says:

              Well, it’s less a contract and more an accreditation of accreditors or accreditors.

              You have the accreditor. Then you have CHEA, which accredits accreditors. I think the US government more or less accepts whomever CHEA accepts. So the government essentially lets CHEA accredit accreditors who accredit universities.

              Somehow, some institutions seem to fall through these cracks and get accredited when they probably shouldn’t.

              There are a half-dozen “regional accreditors”, which is actually the highest accreditation there is. The “national accreditors” tend to be more vocational, specific, and easier to get. Most of the big name for-profits, though, are going to be regionally accredited.

              (The fact that regional is better than national is kind of counterintuitive.)

              (Accreditor/accrediter apparently isn’t a word? It should be.)Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                So, in reality, the Administration could achieve exactly what it wants by simply cleaning up the accreditation process?Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                I am certain there would be lawsuits involved, far more substantial than this one, but yes.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                For the most part the accreditation process is pretty darn clean. Schools have to prepare a plethora of reports on all aspects of their operation, from financials to assessment of learning to faculty qualifications to library resources, and so on. Then there are site visits to verify matters. I’ve been in several meetings with site visitors, and nearly always they’re quite serious, ask meaningful questions, and take careful note of our responses.

                The longest–I think–a school is normally accredited for is 10 years, but when there are concerns the accreditation can be limited to fewer years, requiring an earlier follow up to make sure concerns are addressed. This happened to my college, when our previous administration effectively blew off the accreditors’ demands in a couple of areas (because they were old and tired, I think, and decided to leave it to whomever replaced them; the good news is that we now have the full ten year accreditation again). Schools can also be put on probation (I know a university that was put on probation for not increasing their full-time faculty to a high enough percentage), and as a recent case demonstrates, completely completely lose their accreditation, which is very nearly a death sentence unless you are essentially a bible college whose students come for reasons other than accreditation. (Although I should not that probably well over 90% of religious colleges are in fact accredited, and many are very fine institutions.)

                The accreditation agencies aren’t there to make sure the college/university is great, but meets basic standards. And they don’t rank or grade schools that are accredited; there are already a variety of organizations that do that for the public. They’re there basically to prevent the place from being truly fraudulent, and it seems to me, at least, that they do a pretty good job of that.Report

        • Avatar Snarky McSnarksnark says:

          To answer a little less snarkily, it appears that any of accreditation agencies on this page will do.Report

  5. Avatar George Turner says:

    Well, if we were trying to clean house I don’t think I’d start with the for-profits. Degrees in music history or percussion at a public university sound a bit dodgy, especially when most of the majors happen to be on the basketball team.

    I knew a university piano professor who tells his students that after the advent of recording, the world only needed about a dozen well paid concert pianists. The rest give piano lessons and play in bars on the side.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      In my experience, someone majoring in music at North Texas is more likely to be aware of what they are doing than someone majoring in computer science at Collegamerica-Flagstaff.

      By all means, though, we should be looking at programs at non-profits, too.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        Yea, that’s why in my half-assed way I was going after accreditation. It allows, ideally, for a universal set of criteria that is not focused on profit/nonprofit but instead on overall quality.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer says:

      Okay, this is a hobby horse of mine.

      There are a lot more people who make their livings paying piano than one dozen. People still enjoy going to concerts and a dozen concert pianists could not fill the need for all the live performances.

      As a former theatre person, I can also tell you that the vast majority of my artisitc friends understand the career prospects. Don’t get me wrong, we all think or thought it would be very nice to make a living doing our art but I don’t think most of us expected to. People create art or write or perform because they need to, it is in their blood.

      The point and purpose of university is to create a well-educated person. There is such a thing as stuyding a subject out of love and passion, not for cost-benefit analysis on post-graduation employment prospects. The world does not need to be filled with STEM people only.Report

      • Avatar Miss Mary says:

        I must agree with ND. I studied theater for three years, stage management specifically, before changing my major. The first day as a theater student they gather everyone in the largest auditorium and tell every student that they will never get rich in theater. If you want in the program you must be in it for love, not money. Although I graduated with a degree in psychology I learned a great deal of skills and had an experience I’ll never forget.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        I have to chime in with agreement with NewDealer, too. I think the crucial thing–and this perhaps ought to be a requirement imposed by accrediting agencies–is that all students in a particular major ought to be made well aware of the career prospects, as NewDealer and Miss Mary describe.

        This is actually a pretty personal point for me, because it’s a very small proportion of political science students who will go on to a career directly related to the field (actual political work, foreign service, public administration, etc.). Most who do will need at least an M.A. (public administration, public policy, or some such). A larger number will go on to get law degrees, for which a political science major is fine, but not remotely necessary. The great majority of my students will end up in the private business sector.

        I rank as my two most important accomplishments in my career, 1) the creation of our research methods course so my students get some practical applications that travel across potential careers, and 2) the creation of our career seminar that sets out a no holds barred explanation of their career prospects as political science majors and tells them what they’d damned well better do to prepare themselves if they want to stick with us rather than go get a chem degree.Report

        • Avatar NewDealer says:

          You can major in anything and go to law school. No extra courses necessary!

          As opposed to my friends who decided to go into social work, therapy (psychological and phyiscal), etc. They needed to make up a lot of courses before grad school.Report

      • Avatar Liberty60 says:

        I also think the fixation on STEM majors is overblown. In my field of architecture, what I notice among the engineers and designers I work with is not a lack of technical skill, so much as a lack of intellectual skill more broadly.

        Writing skills, reading comprehension, logic, even just the broad understanding of culture and group dynamics that would come from say, reading literature, are lacking.

        Most companies are happy to training in the particular technical skill, but this deeper and broader education can’t be provided on the job.

        If we look at the senior echelon of our economy, the CEOs and chairmen, the managers and executives; can the words “wisdom”, “discernment” “judgement” or “leadership” come to mind?Report

        • Avatar Will Truman says:

          Meh. I don’t think they’re going to teach you engineering, for the most part. My perception is that most employers don’t want to have to train anyone for anything.

          My main thing is, when we’re looking at which schools and programs to help people afford, we ought to be looking at the employment and repayment capability of those who graduate from those programs and those schools. If liberal arts programs at a particular school pass that metric, then great. Otherwise, they need to find a new school, new program, or new plan. Or they need to get the money without a government guarantee. (On the other hand, I do think we should be more aggressive with merit-based scholarships.)Report

          • Avatar NewDealer says:

            I think this is a large part of our current educational-debt-employment problem, the fact that employers do not want to train anyone for anything.

            I am all for having a mass educated class. However, I think it is a problem when employers use college graduation as a short hand for competence. I’ve certainly had jobs that said “BA required” but could have been done by a non-college graduate.

            A return to apprenticeship for a lot of jobs including many business jobs like marketing and accounting would be a good thing. I don’t see this happening though.Report

        • Avatar Kimmi says:

          no. the words that come to mind are strychnine and bitter almonds.Report

        • Avatar Liberty60 says:

          Will, I completely agree.
          While its tue that companies don’t like to spend time training people, we usually do.
          Recent grads (in my experience) enter the workforce not really having enough skill to immediately be of much use; which is why they need to begin at intern level and learn as they go.
          Mostly, I wanted to counter the currently fashionable disregard that is shown liberal arts and humanities in favor of technical employment skills.Report

          • Avatar Will Truman says:

            My line of interest lately has been that specific vocational degrees are good (depending), and liberal arts degrees are good (depending), but rather it’s the vague degrees which are problematic. We hope and think (to some degree) that someone who gets out with a computer science degree knows these languages, which is great! We hope and think (to some degree) that someone who gets out with a liberal arts degree has a more well-rounded education.

            Aside from these things are vague vocational degrees. Business degrees. You don’t learn specific things that will be immediately useful to an employer as you would or should with a votech degree, but you are also less likely to have that rounded education that makes you a better training subject as you would or should with a liberal arts degree.

            (I have a votech degree. I can, however, also point out to my Honors College membership to suggest that my education was perhaps more well-rounded than the average votech degree.)Report

            • Avatar J.L. Wall says:

              I suppose that the music majors I’m thinking of had an inclinational advantage of sorts, then — they’re all the music types who are also drawn to mathematics and math-heavy fields. If they weren’t, they would be in some trouble.

              Well, one guy isn’t a mathy guy. Now, to the best of my knowledge, he’s playing in some kind of klezmer-fusion band, but given the city he’s in, that’s not necessarily a bad gig if you market yourself well enough — and music production/marketing was where he seemed to think his talents lay, the last time we spoke about it.

              How on earth do I know so many music majors without having a whit of musical talent myself?Report

            • Avatar Kimmi says:

              one of the big things you learn in business school is how to get rid of crummy customersReport

    • Avatar NewDealer says:

      Also, my undergrad was Division III, so there were no athletic scholarships offered.Report

    • Avatar J.L. Wall says:

      The music majors I’ve known have all incorporated other career plans into their coursework, through some kind of second major or minor or even just a certificate program. (Or, failing this, non-music theory/performance jobs and internships in the summers.) They know the odds are terrible, so they have planned on teaching certificates, taking accountancy exams, being tech/computer savvy in specialized fields (e.g., geology and geography).

      And the scholarship athletes of questionable standing/attitude/performance/credentials/academic initiative are rarely, if ever, enrolled in music theory or performance (or theatre, or Classics, or, hell, any Area Studies someone wants to lob a bomb at today). I’ll leave the majors unnamed, but they tend to sound more “practical” until you actually examine what they do/don’t require of students.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        My best friend was a music major and originally had a music education (teaching) component. The going got tough and he switched to straight composition. Things did not work out well for him, unfortunately. He graduated from a good program, and has more artistic talent than anyone I know (and I know a lot of creative people), but last I knew he was working phone support.

        Here’s the thing, though: I don’t know what else he could have majored in, really. He struggled academically not because of his music courses, but because of the stuff that didn’t fuel his passion. It’s easy to say that he should have majored in information systems, like I did, but he would have flunked out. The best I would offer – in retrospect – is state school instead of private, or a more vocational track (sound engineering or whatnot). The ironic thing about that second part is that it’s the artsy vocational schools that are in the most trouble under Obama’s rule. A lot of them are probably going to be shut down.Report

  6. Avatar Miss Mary says:

    Love the post, as usual.

    Totally tangential, but I heard an interesting take on student loan debt on NPR today. They were examining how huge debt loads are effecting the development of romantic relationships. To this I say, duh! And good looking out, of course. It’s an interesting dynamic, I think, to have your potential as a life partner to be weighed with the amount of student loan debt.Report

  7. Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

    As a University of Texas system student…I just have to say.

    Screw Rick Perry. (You’ll see why when I get a post up later today….or rather if I do.)Report

  8. Avatar Anderson says:

    I don’t know how true this is, but I’ve heard that these for-profit schools are particularly keen on getting the fully-backed federal loans of the GI Bill. Veterans aren’t necessarily “preyed on” here, but it seems ripe for that kind of abuse. Any studies or information on that?

    Per WGU, I’m interested to see how digital technology and the internet continue to affect education, both primary and higher. Given the non-tradeable nature of education, change comes rather slowly, but it nonetheless seems to be moving toward innovation (Khan Academy, “turning the classroom inside-out”, e-books, online college courses, etc).Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      Anderson, I think that one of the main things we have to look at technology for is a price point. I think the biggest failure is that we’ve come up with all of these comparatively inexpensive ways to transmit an education, and yet there is comparatively little savings. The reasoning varies from student loan industry to institutional conflicts-of-interest (if Arizona State makes online education too inexpensive, it hurts the campus) to profit-seeking (U of Phoenix virtually has an obligation to charge as much as it can). My real hope is that some outsider, like WGU, can really shake things up.Report

  9. Avatar NewDealer says:


    Completely tangental but my non-American friends think that our educational system is complete madness. As far as I can tell, private university education is a rarity in many countries outside the U.S. or often considered inferior. The exceptions I can think of being Japan (Waseda, Keio) and France (the grandes ecoles).

    I wonder whether Canada or the United Kingdom even have private universities.

    One of my European friends thought that schools like Harvard and my undergrad (smal, liberal arts college in the Northeast) were for-profit because they were private. I blew his mind a bit by saying they were private and had large endowments but were still officially non-profit/501(c)(3) institutions. He seemed to think that Harvard and Yale were for-profit in the same way that the University of Phoenix is for-profit.Report

    • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

      It’s interesting though that post-secondary education is where the US basically blows everyone else out of the water in terms of output and quality. By almost every metric aside from affordability, US universities handily outpace their foreign counterparts.Report

  10. Avatar NewDealer says:

    How do we outpace our foreign counterparts? Keep in mind that I was a arts and humanities student at a small, liberal arts college, not a large research university. We had science majors but no engineers, no business faculty (unless you count economics), etc. Also no graduate students. The school is a name recognized and considered elite (both in terms of being associated with the old WASP aristocracy and now for toughness in admission.academic). However, it is not a research university. Professors are largely at the school to teach. All of my classes were 15-30 students. Sometimes less. Basically, I am far away from the world of research and engineers.

    Most foreign countries do not have the sheer number of universities that the U.S. does. I am not even sure what our closest competitor does. Latin American countries seem to go for universities that make Ohio State look tiny. Some Mexican universities have hundreds of thousands of students. I’d venture to say that it is hard to produce real learning in those environments.

    I am not sure how ranking works in most foreign countries. I know that every country has their elite universities. Canada has McGill and Toronto, The UK has OxBridge, Japan has Tokyo, Waseda, Keio, and Osaka. But I don’t know how the rest of their universities rank. The U.S. seems more clear in terms of Ivy, Comparable to Ivy (Stanford, Notre Dame, Chicago, MIT, CalTech) Small Liberal Arts elite (Wesleyan, Amherst, Oberlin, Kenyon, Grinnel, etc), Public Ivies (the UCs especially Cal, Michigan-Ann Arbor), and so on. The U.S. probably has more elite colleges and universities than some nations have universities.

    Though now people are talking about whether the Ivys or comparable schools are worth it because of the cost. A lot of people say go to community college and then a state school close to home if you can to save on expense. My general reaction is contrarian to this. I think if someone gets into a Harvard, an MIT, an Emory or Duke, a Colby, etc., they should go. Those schools do offer excellent educations and yes the name matters on a resume for better or for worse.

    Though everyone likes to point out the manager they know who only hires kids from big public schools because “those kids worked their way through college” while a private school grad had “mommy and daddy pay for school”.Report

    • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

      From a general research output perspective, US post-secondary institutions are substantially beyond their non-US counterparts, particularly in terms of groundbreaking research in most STEM and even social science fields. Now granted part of this is simply due to the sheer number of flagship universities and research campuses that exist in the US, but it’s notable that there’s only really one major asian university that ranks in the top 25 (Tokyo) globally, while the others in a similar ranking are in the UK. (OxBridge and KCL)

      I would also argue that the US university system encourages more study AFTER an applicant is admitted. Particularly in graduate level work, the amount of critical thinking that goes into US programs is substantially above their peers elsewhere.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:

        From what I remember, the hard part about Japanese universities is getting. Once you are admitted to the top universities, it is supposed to be smooth sailing and the old boys’ network guarantees your career. This obviously happens a bit or a lot in the United States as well especially among certain schools known for creating fiercly devoted alumni but it might be more accute in Asia).

        I would agree with your statement on the US system encouraging more work but that could also be part of the problem especially with the whole costs and student debt crisis. In many (or most) other countries, law and medicine are studied as undergrad subjects. This means that a person has more time in the field as a practioner to earn their income and less debt. They don’t have undergrad debt plus law school or med school or business school debt piled on top.

        There are some benefits to allowing law school to be a bit like grad school. I was allowed to kick around in art for most of my 20s and then head to law school when I realized my theatre career was probably not going to bloom. But in terms of debt and getting a late start into careers, it is not so good.Report

        • Avatar Kimmi says:

          Failing to understand why every field can’t work like physics, where you incur ZERO post-grad debt. It’s true you don’t get paid much, but the program pays for you to work…Report

          • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

            Two words: grant money.

            Physics has it. History doesn’t.Report

            • Avatar NewDealer says:

              I imagine that most arts and humanities programs do not have much in terms of grant money. I received a small scholarship for my MFA program of about 7,000 dollars a year or 3500 per semester. A nice little deduction but not enough to cover the cost of the program. Even with everyone paying rather hefty tuitions, my MFA program was still run on a shoestring budget.Report

  11. Avatar Peter says:

    Here’s my proposal for preventing the student loan crisis from getting much worse:

    Divide all colleges and universities into three tiers.

    Tier One consists of state flagship and land-grant universities, as well as private institutions ranked in the top 25% by a to-be-designated evaluation authority. Students at Tier One institutions will continue to be eligible for student loans in the present manner.

    Tier Two consists of state directional and at-city colleges, as well as private institutions ranked in the second 25% by the aforementioned evaluation authority. Students at Tier Two institutions will be eligible for student loans only if they in marketable courses of study. Over time many Tier Two institutions are likely to dump liberal arts and other unmarketable departments and become more or less specialized vocational training colleges. And that’s exactly what’s intended.

    Tier Three consists of private institutions ranked in the bottom 50%, and all profit-making private institutions. Students at Tier Three institutions will not be eligible for any student loans. Most of these institutions are likely to go out of business, and once again that’s the desired result.

    Obviously there are many details to be worked out – establishing the evaluation authority, preventing private colleges from gaming the system to boost their ranking, determining what is and is not a marketable course of study (note that this can change rapidly, and regional factors must be taken into account), and determining what to do with students who change majors. These might be very big obstacles and much effort will be needed. But *anything* is superior to the disastrously bad current system.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      Most of these institutions are likely to go out of business, and once again that’s the desired result.

      Why is that the desired result? Full disclosure: I work at one of those schools. Forget about me, though. Why do you want to take that choice away from our students, many of whom are pretty intelligent but without the grades to get into the top tier private colleges, but who do not want to go to a large faceless “tier 2” directional college.Report

      • Avatar Peter says:

        The problem is that far too many graduates of lower-ranked private colleges are incurring massive student loan debt, but aren’t finding jobs. One might argue that if they didn’t go to college at all they would have poor job prospects. That may be so, but all in all it’s far preferable to be unemployed at 18 with no debts than it is to be unemployed at 22 with $100K in student loan debt.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley says:

          Lower ranked private colleges tend to charge less than higher ranked ones, and they tend to give a lot of discounts (relatively few students pay the sticker price, and most of them are ones who can afford to). I’m not at all sure the data would really back up your point.

          all in all it’s far preferable to be unemployed at 18 with no debts than it is to be unemployed at 22 with $100K in student loan debt.

          I don’t think you’re considering expected life-time earnings into that equation.Report

        • Avatar NewDealer says:

          You are making a mistake that a lot of people do, including myself, and this is confusing today for tomorrow.

          Understandably we do all need to live in the moment and I think the anxiety felt by many people is perfectly reasonable but there is still decades left to life for most people and things changed. There was an article a while ago in the New Republic about a woman with a Masters from Yale who was working as a waitress because of a recession. Her recession was in the early 1980s. She is now in charge of a respectable non-profit.Report

    • Avatar Rod says:

      I think you could achieve a lot of what you’re aiming for here by just making student loans dischargeable in bankruptcy and getting rid of the Federal guarantee. If we want to subsidize education and/or repayment of the student loans just do that through the tax system instead.

      As it is, lenders have little skin in the game and so they really don’t care if students graduate employable or not, therefore they don’t care a whit about the quality of the institution that they’re financing.

      Yeah. Let’s put some market logic in this.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        I think you could achieve a lot of what you’re aiming for here by just making student loans dischargeable in bankruptcy and getting rid of the Federal guarantee.

        I’m actually not comfortable doing the latter. Not uniformly, anyway. Rather, I think we should be more particular about who we give that loan guarantee to. Student prowess, but also institutions. As a society, we have a reason to want to gamble and fail. Banks, individually, would be more conservative than I would want to be, I think.Report

        • Avatar Rod says:

          What I’m aiming for here is for the financier to have some skin in the game. It would be useful if the offered loan rate reflected the likelihood of repayment. As it stands, any loan, to any student, at any institution, for any degree whatsoever, is charged exactly the same rate of interest and has the same likelihood of being granted.

          I’m all for gamble and fail–that’s why we have BK in the first place–but allowing BK while retaining the loan guarantee just puts the government on the hook instead.

          I’m as liberal as they come but I don’t see the logic of financing an education for any and every student for any degree at any school regardless of probable outcomes as sensible for either the students or the society.Report

          • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

            Rod, you’re spot-on. Education loans aren’t forgiven by declaring bankruptcy. WTF? You can BK your way out of your medical bills, and they saved your fishing life!

            Anybody will lend you a non-dischargable loan, even a loanshark. Sure, you can kill yrself, but that’s the only way out. If loansharks could get into the student loan business instead, they probably would. They don’t even have to break your legs.Report

            • Avatar Will Truman says:

              I’m on the fence as far as dischargeability goes, leaning in favor it. However, even if you allow it, you do have to treat it differently than other loans. Non-dischargeable for a certain period of time so that people don’t rack up debts and immediately declare bankruptcy.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                WillT, if you default on your loan payments, can they repossess your degree???Report

              • Avatar Bob Wallace says:

                What if organizations of higher education operated like job placement services or talent agents? Took a percentage of your future earnings for a fixed number of years?Report

        • Avatar Rod says:

          Since I’m the self-appointed purveyor of odd-ball economic theories and ideas let me throw out a couple other options:

          1. A fully-funded, tuition-free, state university system, like used to exist in California back in the day, that’s funded completely by a progressive, life-time, surtax on the earnings of college graduates (not sure about attendees who don’t graduate). This is the blatantly statist plan, but it’s basically beneficiaries pay.

          2. Some libertarian writers over at the BHL blog promote a Universal Basic Income of some sort. This is generally conceived as a straight-up, regular, cash payment. I would modify that somewhat paternalistically by creating Universal Citizen Life Accounts. Starting at birth you would be entitled to a pro-capita payment into this account (ideally funded by a land-value tax, but that’s a book-length subject in itself). The Life Account would fund three things–basically the stuff that we’re constantly arguing about–education, healthcare, and retirement. It would also be possible to borrow against it for certain purposes.

          For minors, the account would be administered like a trust by the parents, who could use the funds for the school of their choice; public, private, parochial. At majority, you could either use the funds directly or borrow against them for higher education of your choosing. Since it’s a guaranteed flow of funds the risk would be low–practically non-existant!–so interest rates should be minimal. Perhaps you could also borrow against it to start a business, like purchasing a set of mechanic’s tools or something.

          Where the economic calculation comes in is that the fund is also your main retirement account. The more you spend on education in your twenties, the less will be available for retirement later. But if you invest wisely in your education you will have greater lifetime earnings so that shouldn’t be a problem. On the other hand, you may choose to forgo higher ed, because obviously not everyone should attend college. In that case your retirement funds will accrue more quickly. At any time, perhaps with an age requirement (perhaps waiverable in certain cases) you could convert your retirement account into an inflation-adjusted, fixed annuity.

          During this whole time, age-adjusted premiums for some manner of universal health care would be deducted.

          This all sounds expensive but it would replace SS, Medicare, Medicaid, and government education outlays at all levels of government. AND it would introduce elements of choice and reducing bureaucracy.

          Yeah… I spend a lot of time thinking about shit while I’m driving.Report

          • Avatar Bob Wallace says:

            “1. A fully-funded, tuition-free, state university system, like used to exist in California back in the day, that’s funded completely by a progressive, life-time, surtax on the earnings of college graduates (not sure about attendees who don’t graduate). This is the blatantly statist plan, but it’s basically beneficiaries pay.”

            Why not? Perhaps throw in a modest tuition so that those who don’t finish at least pay for their professors’s time. Something like that. Admin and capex not covered.

            A system like this would maximize the efforts of the institution to create successful graduates. It might skew things a bit toward higher paying careers, but that can be dealt with in the fine print.

            There would be a transition period cost during the time higher tuitions disappeared and percentage takes began flowing. But that might be a good use of public funds – for the greater long term good.

            And it would get the profit/interest part removed from the formula. Just a recovery of expenses for the institutions taken at a non-onerous rate from their graduates.Report

    • Avatar Morat20 says:

      Define “marketable courses of study.”

      Now define it in such a way that — 4 or 8 years later — you don’t have a massive glut of people with degrees like that.

      Get back to me when you’ve solved that problem.Report

  12. Avatar NewDealer says:

    Another problem is that college applications are a lot more competitive now.

    I was admitted to a Tier I private liberal arts college in 1998 and graduated in 2002. I doubt that my high school record would get me admitted now. Most likely I’d be somewhere in the Tier 2 range. A lot of my cohort feel the same way.

    Also it is impossible to determine what a marketable major is or is not. A person can major in comp lit, suffer for a few years, get an entry level advertising gig, and then really start to bloom, etc. Also I imagine many teachers come from Tier 2 schools. Should teachers study the subjects they teach?Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      Some college applications are a lot more competitive. Those aren’t who we need to be worrying about, though. Neither students who go to the institution nor students who are shuffled off somewhere else. It’s the other college applications we need to be worrying about. The uncompetitive ones that consist of having a proper line of credit and that’s about it.

      Well, that might be overstating things a bit. I’ve been critical of California’s system and how much they put in a particular basket that they keep exclusive. So I’m not totally indifferent to it (though my interest is mostly limited to public universities – I don’t care much what private ones do outside the Ivy League).Report

  13. Avatar Kazzy says:


    Is that part of the arms race? I mean, my profile would pale in comparison as well, but if I were in high school today, I likely would have approached things differently knowing this. It is sort of like saying baseball players from the 40’s couldn’t compete today because they didn’t work out. Well, yes, if they took a time machine here. But if they were born 70 years later, they would have worked out. I doubt that high school students have evolved at a rate that they are so much smarter now as to bump a tier one college student from just 10 years ago down a peg.

    I wonder how much of it has to do with people applying to a billion universities. Was that always the norm? It seems that some kids nowadays apply to 15-20 schools. That would seem to play all sorts of havoc with admission rates amongst other things.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer says:


      I suppose I would have done stuff differently as well but I can’t say what my record would look like if I was a high school senior in 2002, 2005, 2008, 2012, etc. Based on what my 1998 record was (read: all over the map), I can only guess that I would not get into my alma mater if applying today. There are too many perfect candidates. You never can completely tell but even back in 1998, I was a lucky long-shot who got in.

      I applied to a lot of colleges because of my all over the map grades, good extracurriculurs, and SAT scores. This turned me into the waitlist king.

      So yes, it is all part of the arms race and I went to a very academically competitive high school (professional suburbs of New York). It is probably even more arms race now.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:


        If you were at the margins, as it seems you are describing yourself, then, yes, I’m sure folks like you very well might end up on the other side of the line. But strong Harvard admits of one, two, three, or ten decades ago likely would have remained so today if they grew up in the same environment as today’s strong admits.

        If you don’t mind me asking, where’d you grow up? I’m from Bergen County, NJ and now live up in Orange County, NY after a brief spell in Westchester.Report

  14. Avatar NewDealer says:


    I grew up in Nassau County on Long Island. Now I live in San Francisco.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      New Dealer, if it’s not getting too specific, where in SF? I used to live in the Haight, then out by Stern Grove, just off Taraval.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:

        I live in a gentrified part of the Western Addition or as someone I know calls the neighborhood, I live in the DMV Heights.

        Neighborhoods like Stern Grove are what I like about San Francisco. You have these little villages that are in the middle of the city and no one visits them! One friend describes SF as the “incorporated villages of San Francisco”Report

        • Avatar James Hanley says:

          Ah, just a short bike ride from my old place on Oak across from the Panhandle.

          “incorporated villages of San Francisco”

          Heh, wish I’d thought of that. It really is accurate. One of the things I really did like about SF.Report

          • Avatar NewDealer says:

            It really is.

            Though my New York* self is still having a hard time adopting to Californicus Flakius even though I’ve lived here for four years in August.

            *We aren’t rude. We are direct. Direct in a way that San Franciscans usually dislike.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley says:

              Are the “We don’t care how they do it in New York” stickers still to be seen? They were pretty common 20 years ago.Report

              • Avatar NewDealer says:

                I have never seen one. As a New Yorker (who might or might not go back), I still tend to see San Francisco as a kinder and gentler version of New York.Report

            • Avatar Kimmi says:

              I like direct. better than fake politeness (and that’s no jab at san fran)Report

          • Avatar Kimmi says:

            meh. seems to work better in pittsburgh, honestly, at least on the east end. lot of small towns you can walk from one to the next.Report

            • Avatar NewDealer says:

              You can walk from one end to another in San Francisco. I’ve done it. Sometimes the hills are painful though. The city is only 7 x 7 square miles.Report