Making Secondary Education a Primary Goal
Continuing my series on the accomplishments of President Obama’s first term, let’s take a look at one aspect of what the President has done to help higher education. This is old news. But it is important news, and it is not widely known or appreciated by many Americans.
It’s hard to overstate the value of good education. According to this study released by the Social Science Research Council, the increasing levels of education of will, on average, increase an individual’s lifespan, decrease the likelihood of obesity, increase lifetime earnings, decrease poverty levels, increase the reading proficiency one one’s children, increase a tendency to vote, decrease likelihood of incarceration, increase probability of children having a healthy birth weight, and even decrease the murder rates in a community.
Even with the skyrocketing cost of obtaining a college education in America, as a purely economic matter, the lifetime earning potential college provides results in its being worth the price of admission. As recently as June of 2011, one economic analyst concluded that college is a better investment that stocks, bonds, or even buying a home.
That doesn’t mean it’s easy. Student loan debt is rising at a prodigious rate, faster than any other category of household debt. And we’re falling behind the rest of the world in graduation rates, for both high school and college. As of 2011, all of these countries now have a larger percent of college graduates than the U.S.: Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Ireland, Israel, Japan, South Korea, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
Worse: a report from the National Center for Education Statistics which ranked the knowledge of 15-year-olds in 70 countries showed he U.S. ranked 14th in reading, 17th in science, and 25th in mathematics. Our educational system is failing our children. Between the high costs of college and the low effectiveness of primary education, it’s no wonder fewer Americans actually obtain a college degree.
Most other first-world nations allow students to attend college free. That is, the nation invests in its future by providing a college education to those who want it, and who pass the entrance exams. If you want to get into a private or more prestigious college, you can still pay for it yourself, as you can here. But high-quality higher education in Europe is accepted as a right. That’s a big part of why we’re falling behind; as with health care, Europeans are not individually saddled with the costs of what is, after all, a public good.
For whatever reason (and feel free to discuss it in the comments below), America is unlikely, in the near future, to provide higher education to its citizens as a right, rather than a privilege. The sad part of that is that in an era in which education is the key to a good job and a good economy, when uneducated workers means a nation of burger-flippers rather than rocket scientists or entrepreneurs, when quality education could mean the difference between an economy in collapse and one that remains a world leader, it seems rational to find ways to encourage our young people to go to college, and to help them pay for it.
In March of 2010 — the same week as the signing of the Affordable Care Act — President Obama signed legislation that he called “one of the most significant investments in higher education since the G.I. Bill.” The new law will:
- … eliminate fees paid to private banks to act as intermediaries in providing loans to college students. Previously, federal student loans (that is, student loans funded by the federal student loan program) went through private banks, which kept a cut of the money. Eliminating the middleman will result in $68 billion in savings over the next eleven years.
- … use most of the savings from the above to expand Pell Grants, which allow students with low income, who don’t qualify for loans, to attend college.
- … make it easier for students to repay outstanding loans after graduating. Now, no more than ten percent (down from fifteen percent) of a graduate’s income needs to go to student loan repayment, and any outstanding balance on the loan is forgiven if not repaid in twenty years (down from twenty-five).
- … invest $2 billion in community colleges over four years to provide education and career training programs to workers eligible for Trade Adjustment aid.
The President has taken other actions to improve American education. In December of 2011, he signed Executive Order 13592, “Improving American Indian and Alaska Native Education Opportunities and Strengthening Tribal Colleges and Universities,” to improve educational performance and options for Native American and Alaska Native students from early education through college. In October of 2011, the President used an executive order to help encourage millions of student loan borrowers to convert loans they obtained through the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) program into direct lending, to reduce their interest rates and simplify the repayment process.
While maintaining the current American fetish for making Americans pay for things on their own (instead of making some basic needs a right, rather than a privilege), President Obama has made higher education easier to obtain, easier to pay for, and therefore more attractive and more easily obtained, for millions of Americans. We should be proud to have a President who takes bold action to improve American higher education, and to improve opportunities for America’s future.
- CAMPAIGN 2012 LETTER: Elizabeth Warren stance on student loan debt rewards irresponsibility (tauntongazette.com)
- Higher Education Needs a Financing Overhaul (bloomberg.com)
- Is Education the Next Bubble? Part 1: The Nature of the Problem (guardianlv.com)
- Feds: Sub-prime-style lenders burying college students in mountains of debt (blogs.ajc.com)
About dcpetterson (186 posts)
D. C. Petterson is a novelist and a software consultant in Minnesota who has been writing science fiction since the age of six. He is the author of A Melancholy Humour, Rune Song and Still Life. He lives with his wife, two dogs, two cats, and a lizard, and insists that grandchildren are the reward for having survived teenagers. When not writing stories or software, he plays guitar and piano, engages in political debate, and reads a lot of history and physics texts—for fun. Follow on Twitter @dcpetterson