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NYT Gingerly Acknowledges Obama’s Higher Ed Problem

On the campaign trail, Obama has boasted loudly and repeatedly of his record on higher ed. In particular, the president likes to remind us that he has increased the number of Pell Grants (by about $26 billion in four years), streamlined the financial aid process, and given more government aid to community colleges.

All of this may be true, but college costs have continued to rise steadily during Obama’s tenure, and student debt is now at a record high. So what’s the verdict on Obama’s education policies? A new New York Times piece gingerly examines the issue:

But while many education experts laud his efforts, analysts of varying political stripes have also questioned how much impact some of the president’s policies will have, noting that the prices charged by colleges, and student borrowing, continue to climb.

“I think the president deserves a lot of credit for putting emphasis on things that weren’t being talked about much — raising educational attainment, expanding community college, cost containment,” said Derek Bok, the former Harvard president who has written extensively on the problems and future of higher education. “But I think the jury’s out on whether it’s effective.”

Some conservatives have pushed that critique further, saying that Mr. Obama’s policies are too costly, often assist the wrong people and could have the paradoxical effect of driving up college costs. The dispute turns not just on different assessments of how policies play out, but on differing philosophical views about the role of government. . .

With a great deal of tact and care, the NYT is pointing out that Obama’s favored programs of increasing the number of Pell Grants and tinkering around the margins of our current system may have exacerbated the serious problems students and grads are facing. College tuition is still incredibly expensive, and many pricey degree programs have little relevance to the modern job market. Low income students, especially from families without other college graduates, often drop out without a degree — but are stuck under crushing loan burdens they cannot discharge. Under Obama, more students may receive Pell Grants, but they still graduate with crushing student debt and few marketable skills to show for it.

Obama’s policies haven’t made university education any more rigorous or affordable; instead by pumping subsidies into the system without encouraging change, they may be making things worse.

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