A new policy proposal from President Obama seems to be designed to ensure that unqualified students can afford a mediocre education. It also dooms students from lower-income families to mediocre colleges.
This new proposal to rank colleges by affordability and give more aid to students of the most affordable schools addresses a problem that mostly affects a small number of people who have made questionable decisions. Some students do take on too much debt to attend college, but many have degrees in low-paying fields. Other students earned a degree from a college with low standards and they lack the knowledge employers require and reward with high incomes.
Still other students should never have gone to college, but the availability of loans allowed them to make a bad decision.
Rather than address the reality and tell students that college isn't right for everybody and some education is not worth the cost if loans are required, the president has tried to find a way to push students into some of the worst colleges.
While it certainly isn't fair, attendance at elite schools does offer benefits to some students and gives them social and professional contacts that help accelerate success.
Under Obama's plan, students attending these expensive schools would receive less aid than they would at a more affordable, less prestigious school.
An unintended consequence of the new rankings would be an end to upward mobility through education.
A National Bureau of Economic Research study found that "students who attend colleges with higher average tuition costs or spending per student tend to earn higher incomes later on."
Those gains are not distributed evenly. They also found "the income gains from attending an elite college are highest for students from a disadvantaged background."
Offering top students less aid to attend expensive schools will result in a group of disadvantaged students failing to realize their potential. Like healthcare, this policy would create new problems and have devastating impacts on those who can least afford it.
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