Monthly Archives: June 2015

Wisdom from Lloyd Armstrong and Beth Akers

Lloyd Armstrong makes a very good point:

“Higher education thus far has resisted rather ferociously defining and measuring competencies that describe higher-educational attainment. The usual position is that the benefits of higher education are too numerous and of such breadth that they cannot be captured by such limiting concepts as competencies… Acknowledging that some important outcomes are indeed measurable, and quantifying those measurable outcomes would enable universities to provide improved credentialing…”

Just because you can’t measure everything that matters is no excuse to not measure anything at all. And one of the things that if worth knowing and can be measured quite readily is post-enrollment earnings. As Beth Akers points out, providing this information would allow students to make more informed decisions:

“This body of evidence contradicts the notion that a crisis of college affordability exists on a macro level.  However, it is undeniable that many individuals and households are facing serious economic hardship that can be explained completely or in part by their spending on higher education.  Like any other investment, the returns to higher education are not guaranteed.  While the average student will see a large financial return on the dollars they spend on higher education, some students will find that their investment won’t pay off.  We can reduce the frequency of this occurrence by ensuring that students have the information and resources they need in order to make good decisions about college enrollment.  For instance, a national level data base that reports earnings by institution would succeed in helping student to avoid enrolling at institutions that do not have a track record of success.  This would succeed in creating more institutional accountability without additional government intervention.” (emphasis added)

Should asking job applicants about college degrees earned be illegal?

Scott Alexander has a rather interesting alternative to plans for free college:

“presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has proposed universal free college tuition

I’m afraid that Sanders’ plan… would subsidize the continuation of a useless tradition that has turned into a speculation bubble, prevent the bubble from ever popping, and disincentivize people from figuring out a way to route around the problem…

If I were Sanders, I’d propose a different strategy. Make “college degree” a protected characteristic, like race and religion and sexuality. If you’re not allowed to ask a job candidate whether they’re gay, you’re not allowed to ask them whether they’re a college graduate or not. You can give them all sorts of examinations, you can ask them their high school grades and SAT scores, you can ask their work history, but if you ask them if they have a degree then that’s illegal class-based discrimination and you’re going to jail. I realize this is a blatant violation of my usual semi-libertarian principles, but at this point I don’t care.”

Credential inflation is a real issue, and it is good to see it getting more attention. I don’t know as though I’d go as far as to criminalize asking job applicants about their education, but there is a very good case to be made for legislation to overturn Griggs v. Duke Power (this Supreme Court decision largely outlawed skills/knowledge tests administered to job applicants, likely leading to greater reliance on education credentials and hence fueling credential inflation).

More on Risk Sharing for Student Loans

I’m still against risk sharing on student loans, but if we must have it, Douglas Webber suggests some good ways to set it up:

“it is in the best interest of students, taxpayers, and the economy that colleges have “skin in the game” when it comes to their students’ future economic success. The most straightforward way of doing this would be to impose a penalty on colleges equal to some proportion (e.g. 20 percent) of the value of the student loans that past students have defaulted on.

The current accountability system is too blunt: revocation of eligibility for student loans for colleges that fall above certain default-rate thresholds (40 percent in one year, 30 percent in three consecutive years). Even more troubling, there are enormous incentives and opportunities for colleges to game the system. For instance, thresholds are based on the percentage of students who default within three years of leaving college. This has led some colleges to make small enough payments to avoid a technical default for the first three years of loans. Moreover, there are no incentives for the overwhelming majority of colleges that are not near the default-rate thresholds…

The benefit of risk-sharing lies not in the penalty itself, but in the changes in decision-making that it promises…

Another potential concern is that some colleges might stop admitting low-income students, who historically are more likely to default. This is a more serious concern that policymakers should be sure to tackle in any legislation. One proposed solution is to use the money generated from risk-sharing penalties to pay a bonus to institutions for each Pell Grant or low-income student who successfully graduates.”