There’s a short list of issues on which Via Meadia and OWS agree; one is our mutual feeling that students today are too often stuck with excessive debt and that something needs to be done.Change may be coming to higher ed faster than many people understand. The New York Times reports that Education Secretary Arne Duncan is talking about sweeping reforms. In a recent speech, Duncan (who has encountered fierce opposition from teacher unions for his support of charter schools) praised some genuinely innovative programs at colleges around the country:
He named, for example, Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, which is offering a 50 percent discount on tuition and fees for freshmen who enroll in the school of education; the University of Oregon’s PathwayOregon, guaranteeing a tuition-free education to qualified Oregonians from low-income families, and, in West Virginia, the University of Charleston’s plan to cut tuition 22 percent for next year’s incoming freshmen and transfer students.Mr. Duncan also mentioned Western Governors University, a lower-cost online nonprofit institution whose students earn degrees not by putting in a set number of hours but through demonstrated mastery of their field.
Up until now, government policy has been to feed more and more money into a dysfunctional system. As colleges raised tuition faster than the rate of inflation, government loans allowed students to pay up. That kept colleges happy, but left graduates and drop outs stuck with hundreds of billions in debt as they struggled to start careers.OWS types want government to forgive existing loans and replace future loans with grant, but unless the Money Fairy turns the Capitol building into platinum there isn’t enough money for that. One suspects that the Obama administration would prefer to ‘solve’ the problem simply by increasing federal payments to (and federal control over) American colleges, but Secretary Duncan seems to grasp that this can’t work.The system has reached a crisis point, and it is clear that change, planned or unplanned, benign or destructive, must come. The scattershot nature of Secretary Duncan’s comments suggests that nobody quite knows what will come next — but now is the perfect time to try new ideas. Many will fail, but a few will work. Hopefully, these can become the basis of an educational system that gives our children the education they will need at a price they can pay.