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Obama’s Loan Plan – Scary Stuff

Like Caesar’s Gaul, President Obama’s plan for higher education is divided into three parts:

1) Every American should have postsecondary educational training, and within a few years we should again lead the world in the proportion of young graduates with bachelor’s degrees;

2) Federal financial assistance to pay for college should become an entitlement like Social Security or Medicare, available to all in need;

3) The private provision of loans to students should end and the Federal Government should become the provider of student loans.

The American higher education establishment has mostly endorsed this sweeping proposal. As is so often the case, they are wrong. On every count, this proposal is an Obamination – a perverse set of policies that will raise costs to taxpayers and, surprisingly, also to many college students and families.

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What Does ‘Sustainability’ Have to Do With Student Loans?

The student loan crisis – or near crisis; narrowly-averted crisis ; or postponed crisis – no one is sure – comes co-incidentally at a moment when many colleges and universities are once again repackaging their basic programs. The new buzzword, as John Leo has pointed out is “sustainability.” I also recently tried my hand at unpacking this polyvalent idea. “Sustainability” sounds to the uninitiated as though it is about environmentalism, but it is much more. As I wrote in Inside Higher Education, many of the advocates of “sustainability” see it as an encompassing concept. It includes science, economics, and the social structure. And for many in the movement, the focus on social order is the basis for far-reaching attempts to advance “social justice” policies.

I doubt this development has come into focus for many parents or people outside the campus. The campus left learned with its promotion of the concept of “diversity” the advantages of packaging hard-core ideology in bland, feel-good terminology. Sustainability is another venture in this direction. No one can really be against sustainability (definition 1) – prudent use of resources with the needs of future generations in mind. But while most of us hear the word in that sense, campus ideologues are busy rearranging the curriculum and student life around “sustainability” (definition 2) – a condition that arises when capitalism and hierarchy are abolished; individuals are made to see themselves as “citizens of the world;” and a new order materializes on the basis of eco-friendliness, social justice, and new forms of economic distribution.

Sustainability (2) is an amalgam of environmental extremism, shards of Marxism, romantic utopianism, and identity group politics. It doesn’t have a significant political following in America outside college campuses, and in that sense it is a fringe movement. But on campus it’s everywhere. Hundreds of campuses now have sustainability officers, courses that promote the ideology, and most ominously, “co-curricular” programs run through student life and residence halls that attempt to “educate” students about their mistaken “worldviews” and bring them aboard this new ideological ark.

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Still Forgotten: Low Income Students At Selective Colleges

Despite a great flurry of activity to expand financial aid at selective colleges over the past several years, a new study by the Chronicle of Higher Education reported this gloomy bottom line: “Top Colleges Admit Fewer Low-Income Students.” As someone who has worked for more than a decade to push colleges to enroll more economically disadvantaged kids of all races, the news was disappointing, though not altogether surprising. For years, elite colleges have assembled freshmen classes that include upper-middle class and wealthy students of all races and declared themselves to be diverse. New financial aid policies alone were unlikely to change that pattern.

The Chronicle study found that the percentage of students receiving Pell Grants declined at the wealthiest 75 private and 39 public colleges and universities between the 2004-05 and 2006-07 academic years. In the 75 private institutions with the largest endowments, 13.1% of undergraduates in 2006-07 received Pell Grants, which typically go to students from families earning less than $40,000 a year, down from 14.3% two years earlier. In 39 public institutions with endowments of $500 million or more, 18% were Pell Grant recipients in 2006-07compared with 19.6% two years earlier.

The news is particularly troubling given the high profile efforts announced in recent years by some 40 top colleges and universities to provide more generous financial aid to struggling families. Why did less, rather than more, economic diversity follow? The primary reason is that aid policies are only part of what drives enrollment. In order to receive aid, low-income and working class students must first be admitted. Because such students often attend lousy schools, even highly talented and hard working students – who have tremendous potential – don’t look as good on paper as their more privileged colleagues. Research finds that while colleges and universities give substantial preferences to under-represented minorities (blacks, Latinos and Native Americans) and other groups, they give basically no preference to economically disadvantaged students, despite claims to the contrary.

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