Alternate conclusions

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This NYT article reports on the findings from a book by William Bowen and Michael McPherson, who found that the graduation statistics from US Public Universities are not good.

Only 33 percent of the freshmen who enter the University of Massachusetts, Boston, graduate within six years. Less than 41 percent graduate from the University of Montana, and 44 percent from the University of New Mexico.

Of course, the obvious conclusion that they draw is that Public schools are failing college-goers. The Obama administration is responding by shifting funds from loan subsidies to direct financial aid, but this may only help enrollment not completion.

They also conclude that students pick colleges that aren’t the best match for them, smart kids going to worse schools because of proximity to home or other reasons. This is particularly a problem for poor students.

For poor students, staying in school for four or more years in order to graduate can really rack up the tuition bills. The mainstream conclusion is probably to direct more financial aid and improve college matching programs in high schools.

I think Cato Institute’s Charles Murray would come up with an alternate conclusion. All financial aid does is drive up demand and costs of colleges. Perhaps cutting financial aid and changing social attitudes about seeking 4 year degrees will lower demand, cause costs to fall which will instigate “substandard” universities – which don’t graduate as many students – to close. If we restrict financial aid only to the very poor, we can make college cheaper for everyone, and save lots of time for people who don’t need 4 year degrees.


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