Throw a lot of federal money at a problem, then say it doesn't exist. That's the conservative party line when it comes to higher education. Neal McCluskey of the Cato Institutegot Fox News.com to print a laughable retort to the Page One USA Today story last week on student debt.
McCluskey's rap? Spending on federal student aid is growing.
"Between 1994-95 and 2004-05 inflation-adjusted grant aid per student from both federal and other sources ballooned 51 percent, from $2,965 to $4,479, and overall aid rose 61 percent, from $6,261 to $10,119." That's from this College Board report. It's a true fact.
It's also true that the Pell Grant, the largest federal student grant, has been flat-funded since 2003 at $4,050, paying less than a third of the costs at the average public university (compared to around three-fourths back in the 70s when it was created.)
It's also true that state support for higher education is at a 25-year low on a per-student basis. State budgets have historically been the greatest source of funding for public universities, where almost 80% of US college students attend. Budget cuts have been passed onto college students and families in the form of tuition increases , who then turn to federal aid, which is increasingly available in the form of loans, which students, in the real world, tend to experience as a greater risk than grants--sometimes even as more of a burden than a boon.
Now you could bat these numbers back and forth all day. What really makes me laugh is the argument that since the federal government is already spending a hell of a lot of money on this problem, that means the problem is not really a problem at all.
Tell that to 46 million Americans with no health insurance !
Neal, let's shake hands and agree that throwing more taxpayer dollars away is not going to get at the root causes of this mess. What we need is a solution that curbs billions of federal subsidies to corporations and other waste, reins in spending at the for-profit outfits and out-of-control state bureaucracies, incurs low administrative costs of less than a penny on the dollar, is funded as a public good and a public investment, is modeled on the successful systems in other industrialized nations, and protects the poorest and most vulnerable, who are most exposed to risk in the current system.
Wait a second, was I talking about health care or higher ed? Oh, right, both!