According to the latest federal figures, 43 percent of first-time, full-time college students in four-year programs don’t graduate within six years, and most of those will never finish. Worse, 72 percent of students in two-year programs don’t complete them within three years. Add to that the one-third of bachelor’s holders who are in jobs that don’t require the degree, and massive over-consumption — not underinvestment — is clearly our biggest college problem.
Given the horrendous federal education track record — not to mention the nearly $16 trillion national debt — there’s no reasonable way to conclude that yet more federal outlays are needed.
But let’s be fair: President Obama almost certainly knows that. He’s a smart guy, and this information is pretty easy to find.
The fact is the president is being very realistic about this — politically realistic.
Throw all the tax and education reality you want at him, as long as voters believe the rich are getting away with taxation murder, or more money for education necessarily means better education, and the president would be politically crazy not to do what he’s doing.
Polling suggests he’s on target. A recent survey of swing-state voters commissioned by the College Board found that 67 percent think that education is “extremely important,” placing it just behind “jobs and the economy” and “government spending.” Most also feel education needs greater funding, including student aid. And it doesn’t hurt that focusing on aid curries favor with both Occupy Wall Street types and middle-class voters staring down tuition bills.
So is the president engaging in class warfare? Seems so. Is he ignoring the waste of federal education policy? Absolutely. Has he given up on reality? No way — it’s just that it’s political reality that matters.
Neal McCluskey is associate director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom and author of the study How Much Ivory Does This Tower Need? What We Spend on, and Get from, Higher Education.