by

“Remaking the University: Student Debt is a Continous Drain on College Students”:

These market-ruled aid programs continue the Clinton-era suppression of the value of public goods. In reality, goods like clean air, sanitation systems, mass transit, vaccination, and education should be distributed according to individual need and general benefit, not according to ability to pay. With these goods price signals don’t work. They give an oversupply to rich people and an undersupply–or much lower quality–to the poor. This is why the Clinton-Obama market model of health and education has lost so much support.

In addition, the market-driven allocation of high-quality college is a main reason why US attainment has fallen steadily over the last 4 decades from first to about sixteenth in the world. It is also why college racial inequality persists.

Most of us feel somewhat badly about this unjust, unequal allocation and try to patch it with our high-tuition-high aid system, stuffed like a Thanksgiving turkey with loans (2:1 loans over grants vs. the reverse 30 years ago). We know it doesn’t provide equal outcomes by race or class, or actually equal opportunity (for roughly similar educational quality). Rather than putting financial aid on a market system, we should have put it on a public good allocation system. Having contributed to the market mistake, Democrats should now stand for the public good correction.

I was lucky enough to attend and finish college in the 1990s, at the tail end of a time when tuition was affordable (even if only barely so), grants and non-commercial financial aid was plentiful, and there were still reasonably decent part-time and summer jobs to be found. I hate hearing people my age and older talk about how Kids These Days need to be responsible and work their way through college like we did, as though the educational, financial, and economic landscapes have not utterly and irrevocably changed in the intervening years.

Newfield is right on his broader point as well. Public goods ought not to be subjected to market-based solutions.

  1. I like that Newfield article. I have my students read a clutch of essays on the value of higher education every year and as an college writing instructor, I find their responses depressing. But I think underlying economics are at play.

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