Over the past week, the editorial writers at the Orange County Register have decided to launch another all out attack on the middle class. Their recent target, is higher education for the middle class. Editorial Writer Mark Landsbaum wrote in his commentary Sunday:
What we subsidize, we get more of. About 40 percent of Americans have college degrees, compared with 5 percent in 1940. This can be linked to government subsidizing higher education with direct funding and indirectly with low-interest student loans. As an Orange County Register editorial noted last week, “This has been mistaken for progress.”
I love it when Mark Landsbaum quotes himself; but I digress.
The spark that started the fire of increased college graduations was the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, known informally as the G.I. Bill, a law that provided a range of benefits for returning World War II veterans. By the end of the program in 1956, roughly 2.2 million veterans had used the GI Bill education benefits in order to attend colleges or universities. An additional 6.6 million used these benefits for some kind of training program.
The G.I. Bill spurred the greatest period of economic growth our country has experienced since the Great Depression, fostering the emergence of the middle class. Recognizing the benefits of a well educated workforce, congress expanded it’s commitment to higher education by establishing the federal grant and loan programs that exist today.
The provision of funding to support secondary education costs for the middle class has placed a college education within reach for millions of Americans. A college education is no longer an entitlement for the wealthy. If a high school graduate has the grades to meet admission requirements, they can go to college.
The way Landsbaum paints the picture, “the nation accepted the misguided notion that anyone who can pick up a pencil should attend college.” This could not be further from the truth. Admission to a California State University requires at least a 3.0 Grade Point Average. Landsbaum fails to understand that a 3.o G.P.A. is not achieved by simply picking up a pencil. The most recent study of high school graduates shows that the average G.P.A. for graduates is 3.0.
Landsbaum goes on to complain about the more than $1 trillion in student loan debt as a drag on the economy and excessive burden on the taxpayers. He writes:
The New York Times two weeks ago pegged outstanding student loan debt at $1 trillion plus, identifying the root of the problem as: “Now nearly everyone pursuing a bachelor’s degree is borrowing.” Some debts exceed $100,000, which may be manageable – on a brain surgeon’s salary.
The Register’s May 29th editorial wrote of the increased percentage of Americans holding college degrees:
“This has been mistaken for progress. In reality, it is the victory of the entitlement-minded over those who foot the bill. Ironically, they often are the same young people. As with all income-redistribution schemes it has unpleasant, unintended consequences.”
Landsbaum expands his editorial attack:
“The feeding cycle is aggravated as government-backed loans and subsidies encourage colleges to accept more students because tuition is paid upfront, unlike tuition debts. The result is a lot of people are in college because they can pay for it on time, and not always the best and brightest.”
The achievement standards for college admissions are not set too low. They are challenging, yet they allow for the average high school student to have the opportunity to further their education and improve their opportunities for middle class income. Landsbaum’s attack on college graduates as misguided and leads one to believe that most college graduates are walking away with useless degrees.
Pandering to the youth vote, Obama recently said that if loan rates go up, it amounts to “basically a tax hike for more than 7 million students.” Obama would double down on the bad bets that have created this problem.
Instead, he should at least allow government interest rates to increase. That would dampen demand, and lessen the resulting debt. When students weigh real-time, out-of-pocket expenses, they should be less inclined to enroll as basket-weaving majors.
To his point about basket-weaving majors I’ll let some pesky facts clear up his ignorance.
The National Center for Education Statistics’ most recent report on Bachelor’s degrees conferred by degree-granting institutions, by field of study, shows the following for 2008-09.
Business – 21.73%
Social sciences and history – 10.52%
Health professions and related clinical sciences – 7.52%
Education – 6.35%
Psychology – 5.89%
Visual and performing arts – 5.57%
Biological and biomedical sciences – 5.04%
Communication, journalism, and related programs – 4.87%
Engineering – 4.32%
Liberal arts and sciences, general studies, and humanities – 2.94%
It doesn’t look to me like basket-weaving is the dominant degree being issued. But Landsbaum’s perspective seems eerily similar to that of Ronald Reagan when he was governor of California and eliminated free secondary education that had driven California’s economic engine of growth and prosperity.
Landsbaum and the Orange County Register are dead wrong. Funding for student loans and grants is necessary to support the economic health of the middle class. To limit secondary education to only those who can afford to pay for it up front, without loans or assistance, will only serve to expand the gap between the wealthy and poor. Such a plan will return our society to a time when aristocracy ruled. The end result, and apparent goal of Mr. Landsbaum and the Orange County Register, is the destruction of the middle class.