The Corner

Education

Federal Student Aid Was a Bad Idea

So argues economics professor Richard Vedder in today’s Martin Center article.

Vedder is responding to a recent defense of government student aid programs by Jason Delisle and Oden Gurantz. Vedder writes that they ignore

a fundamental problem that student loans have helped create: Too many people are getting overly expensive college degrees, while many others drop out before degree completion or end up underemployed, doing jobs historically done quite competently by high school graduates.

On that, Vedder is right. Federal student aid is the cause of the upward ratcheting of credential inflation we have had over the last 40-plus years. (I would add that it is also complicit in the downward spiral of academic standards in our primary and secondary schools.)

He also notes that easy student aid money has lured many poorly prepared kids into college. Once in college, many coast along to their degrees in a relaxed atmosphere of fun and low academic demands, what Murray Sperber called the “beer and circus” experience. Worse yet, many others imbibe the “progressive” radicalism that is hard to escape on most campuses.

If it were politically possible, Vedder would dramatically change or, better still, eliminate federal student aid programs.

He concludes:

I think a strong case can [be] made that the federal student loan program has led to unproductive overinvestment in higher education, lower academic standards, an explosion in costs, and a decline in low-income Americans on college campuses. Changing the system to make it work better will be extremely difficult.

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.

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