Peter Sacks’s recent piece attacks a straw man. He argues against advocates for eliminating all federal aid to colleges, a powerless faction if there ever was one. In so doing he sidesteps the very real failings of our higher-ed policy.
Sacks claims that capitalistic systems requires educated citizens. Far from controversial. However, he contends that since college educates a wide swath of Americans, all federal support for higher-ed “amounts to a direct government subsidy to capitalistic enterprises.” This is a logical leap. Surely, some colleges–and, for that matter, some majors–invigorate “capitalistic enterprises,” but far from all do. Sacks’ argument relies on the same faulty assumption that undergirds our loan programs, namely, that every student, academic program, and college, deserves equal taxpayer support. The tremendous unemployment among recent college graduates, growing loan repayment delinquencies, and the large percentage of college students holding jobs that do not require a college degree suggests otherwise.
More troubling is his assessment of higher-ed’s problems. He argues that tuition costs have grown so large that many students cannot afford to complete their degrees. Though this point is inarguable, his solution — reducing aid for middle-class students to double the maximum Pell Grant award for poorer students– evinces an incomplete understanding of the problem. Higher education is expensive in part because colleges face zero pressure to reduce their costs. Maintaining the current level of subsidization for colleges will do nothing to solve this problem.