Education

College for the Middle Class Helps the Poor. Honest!

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'Tis the season of middle class entitlements, and the Room for Debate blog over at the New York Times site has a good forum up about everyone's favorite entitlement—higher education!

One great contribution, from engineer Alfonso Trujillo:

Subsidizing top-tier universities in the hope of getting more underprivileged students to attend is tantamount to subsidizing top-tier department stores in the hope that some underprivileged consumers will be clothed. In the end, both results are predictable: higher prices, higher status for those who purchase the product, and an inefficient method of helping the poor.

(Wanting to know more about Trujillo, I Googled him and found this: The BBC seems to have used him as a "hombre on the street" in a forum about Latino voters in 2004. Five years later, Trujilo has become a person who "writes often on education issues" and blogs, fittingly enough, as Hispanic Pundit. Nice work dude.)

We, too, expressed a certain amount of skepticism about the current system at Reason.tv this summer:

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  1. Aren’t college-educated people healthier?

    That gives me an idea ….

  2. As a college professor, I acknowledge that the current state of my profession is only made possible by an elaborate system of subsidies from the GI Bill, Pell Grants, Stafford loans, all Titles of the NDEA (now the Higher Ed Act), etc.

    I would love to see this changed, even though it might cost me my job.

  3. From a libertarian perspective, this turns into a really messy problem. The central question is, should publicly funded university R&D exist? Ron Baily had a post on that a few months back.

    As a libertarian, I fully understand the argument against it.

    As someone who leads R&D teams in private industry, I can say without reservation that the pool of published results from all this university R&D we’ve funded, is an utterly invaluable pool of knowledge that has made vast quantities of technological progress possible (as in marketable products that people actually want to buy).

    I cannot see how similar progress could have been made without all the R&D results being available in the open literature. There are few problems I’ve encountered in practice where you can’t find something published that at least helps give you a start on a problem.

    What we go on to achieve in industry, we frequently do *not* publish. Or more often we publish around our results, not wanting to give away our competitive advantage.

    It’s far from clear to me that we’d all be better of if we banished publicly funded R&D.

    OTOH, the affirmative action crap that’s come through the pipeline with the R&D funds, has already watered down the quality of our college professors and it’s going to get worse.

    Subsidizing top tier universities because they yield valuable output is one thing. Subsidizing them on the theory that we’re going to drag more politically correct minority candidates into the system — even when that requires lowering standards, as is being done — is an entirely different proposition.

    1. Scrooge,

      I wonder if you removed the information in open literature that allows industry to “start on a problem” if that would lead to greater value of the individual employee to the company.

      As in, the value of intellectual property would go through the roof because all innovation and advances in technology would become essentially private. So, picking which engineer you wanted working for you would be critical because some punk in college wouldn’t have access to the material to teach himself that particular skill.

      See where I’m trying to go?

  4. Universities want to make money. Tuition is one way to do that. So how do you convince universities that their student bodies should be cut in half, when the lower the standard of admission is, the more tuition they collect?

    I don’t want to start a liberal arts vs. science/tech argument, but a liberal arts degree is not going to give you a very good return on your investment.

    That’s one of the big arguments for government subsidies: since there’s no demand for liberal arts, the market will essentially eliminate it.

    At universities, engineering and science programs generate a large amount of money through research. There’s very little research going on in liberal arts, and the research that is happening doesn’t yield anything particularly marketable.

    1. you make that sound like a bad thing. Isn’t Obama trying to encourage more students into math and sciences?

      1. Obama Touts TV and Video Games as Teachers of Math and Science Skills

        http://chronicle.com/article/O…..mes/49247/

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