No Class: Bill Clinton's Education-as-Entitlement Programs Threaten to Reverse Positive Trends in Higher Education

By Postrel, Virginia I. | Reason, May 1997 | Go to article overview

No Class: Bill Clinton's Education-as-Entitlement Programs Threaten to Reverse Positive Trends in Higher Education


Postrel, Virginia I., Reason


It's not surprising that Bill Clinton has decided to become the education president. Southern governors always emphasize education, hoping to drag their states up a few economic notches and prove they're on the side of civilization; hence, the South has produced such secretaries of education as former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander and former South Carolina Gov. Dick Riley. Clinton follows in this tradition, hailing from a state in which a mere 13.4 percent of the population had college degrees or better as of 1990 (an even worse showing than Mississippi). He knows education is important because he grew up in and later governed a place where it was relatively rare.

Now he wants to make two years of college an entitlement and turn tuition into a tax shelter. He demands a "new nonpartisan commitment to education" and declares that "education is a critical national security issue for our future, and politics must stop at the schoolhouse door." That declaration is, of course, backed by piles of polls showing that education handouts are popular among voters in general and women in particular. And it's tied to programs designed to make educational entitlements as much a part of middle-class life as Social Security or the home mortgage deduction.

In a moment of ideological frankness, Assistant Secretary of Education David Longanecker blurted out this allegedly nonpolitical policy's goal: bribing Generation X and its successors to back big government. "We want to make a very strong statement," Longanecker said following the State of the Union Address, "that it is worth it to this country to invest in these middle-class students. We believe it will help them re-engage in civic life and make them believe that government does something for them too."

Maybe politics should stop at the schoolhouse door, but intelligent analysis shouldn't. Clinton's higher-education policies are harebrained and irresponsible, obviously concocted by people who care more about poll results than about what they might be doing to the nation's colleges or their students. They ignore the basic, well-understood dynamics of higher-education finance and evince no knowledge of how colleges actually work or what challenges they face.

Over the past year or two, American colleges have begun to address two linked problems: rapidly rising tuitions and rampant grade inflation. Clinton's plans threaten these promising trends.

College tuitions rose rapidly in the 1980s - 2.7 percent annually for state schools and 3.9 percent for private schools, after accounting for both inflation and expanded financial aid. That increase had many causes, but the most important was simple supply and demand: Supply was essentially fixed, and demand was rising rapidly. Students were willing to pay, for good reason. In crass financial terms, a college degree is an excellent investment, with an average return of around 13 percent a year after inflation.

"In almost any other unregulated market, an increase in demand against a fixed supply is sure to push up the equilibrium price," writes economist Charles Clotfelter in Buying the Best, a 1996 study of higher-education finances that focuses on four elite schools. "It is a distinctive feature of the market for higher eduction, however, that the supplying firms made it a practice not to charge what the market might bear, choosing instead to ration demand by electing talented and diverse student bodies who would best fit their institutional objectives. At the same time, however, the trustees and administrators of these favored institutions could not fail to observe that their admissions offices were being besieged by eager applicants, and that an unusually large tuition increase would not cool the ardor of prospective students." At all but a few elite and well-endowed schools, in fact, prices were what the market would bear - and it could bear a lot.

At some point, however, parents simply don't have the cash - you can't take out a mortgage against your kid's future earnings. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

No Class: Bill Clinton's Education-as-Entitlement Programs Threaten to Reverse Positive Trends in Higher Education
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.