Monday, October 31, 2005

Fighting the War at Home

My latest Gen Debt column focuses on counterrecruitment, which has grown into a huge national movement. For a look at the other side, read this extremely friendly profile in the NYT of a successful Army recruiter in Harlem. He keeps himself in "diamond stud earrings, vintage X-Men comic books and sports jerseys that can cost up to $400 apiece" by sending his fellow poor and working-class Hispanics to Iraq.

Sarcasm becomes reality

From the hed and lede of my story about grad students' woes, which appeared last spring:

Wanted: Really Smart Suckers: Grad school provides exciting new road to poverty.
Here's an exciting career opportunity you won't see in the classified ads. For the first six to 10 years, it pays less than $20,000 and demands superhuman levels of commitment in a Dickensian environment...

From the Burlington Free Press and Rutland Herald next week, as part of Campus Equity Week:
College Faculty Wanted
Individuals to teach part time at the college level...No health care, subsidized pension or other benefits. No recall rights or any other form of job security guaranteed...Part-time instructors will have no paid office hours, no academic freedom protections and will not participate in department meetings.


Sunday, October 30, 2005

For Halloween, a scary glimpse of the future

When you get old, the government can take your social security payments to pay off your old delinquent student loans.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Tuition Gone Wild ?

MTV.com catches on to "Generation Debt."

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Galley Cat

I got five colorful, neat, smooth copies of my book in the mail today. Well, the galleys, anyway. They are my personal copies-- a few dozen others will be going out to editors, reviewers, academics I interviewed, friends in the journalism business, some famous writers I admire, and my folks.
Picking up this small object which represents a year and a half of work was a truly surreal experience. I almost don't want to look at them--I can't believe the pub date is almost here.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Is College Worth It?

Interesting article in the Chronicle last week by William Strauss and Neil Howe, authors of Generations and Millennials Rising. Title: The High Cost of College: An Increasingly Hard Sell.
Great quote:

Many [Gen-Xers, as parents of college kids] will ask whether student loans are, in fact, "financial aid" or rather just an inducement to enroll — much as car loans are not "car aid" but a mere inducement to buy a car.

Another great quote:
The longstanding assumption about the collegiate earnings premium is due for a high-stakes reassessment in this new era of high tuition, high debt, and parents with a keen eye on the bottom line.

New Advocacy Group

The Student Aid Alliance is a new coalition of dozens of college, professor, and student groups in Washington trying to "Stop the Raid on Student Aid."

Student Loan Cuts Get Even Bigger

From my Chronicle of Higher Ed news email this morning:

* REPUBLICAN LEADERS of the House education committee unveiled a bill on Tuesday that would trim up to $15-billion from the government's student-loan programs over the next five years. The reductions would meet the panel's obligations as part of a broader Congressional effort to reduce the federal budget deficit. -->
The new cuts are mostly more expensive consolidation and taking money from the direct-loan program.

* DIRECT LENDING TO COLLEGE STUDENTS has cost taxpayers more than originally forecast, but still, per loan, it has cost one-fifth of what guaranteed lending has over the past decade, according to a Government Accountability Office report released belatedly on Tuesday.
UPDATE: Here's the link to that GAO report.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Mau-Mauing the Non-College Kids

Tonight I was invited to cover a reception for Generation Engage, a new organization, founded 10 months ago, that aims to involve non-college 18 to 24 year olds--the "forgotten half"--in the political process.

Now, having attended Yale, I developed a tolerance--even a sympathy--for the children of the rich and illustrious. They have an uphill battle to convince anyone that they ought to be taken seriously. But when you are two sons of one macher (in this case Adrian and Devin Talbott, sons of Strobe Talbott), is it such a good idea to recruit Justin Rockefeller (son of Sen. Jay) and Cate Edwards (daughter of former Sen. John) as your co-leaders?
And then, when you hold your big fundraising reception in the Ralph Lauren store, full of beautiful preppy clothing and beautiful preppy cater-waiters? Where the overheard conversation sounds like this: "blah blah blah St. Albans. blah blah blah Shah of Iran"? Where not a single invited guest appears to be, themselves, a non-college young person? And have David Lauren (son of Ralph) welcome everyone? Where your keynote speaker, President Bill Clinton opens, "I have known Devin and Adrian since they were infants, so I would have been here no matter what"? Well, it becomes really hard to take you seriously.

I repeat, I think the basic idea of what they are doing, and the people they are targeting, are great, although I find the staunchly nonpartisan, civic engagement model a bit wan and tepid next to bolder partisan efforts on the left and right. Even Rock the Vote , nominally nonpartisan, has not been afraid to get out there on the issues that actually affect young people.

Still, Gengage says they are in this for the long haul, not just one election cycle, and that will give them time to refine their approach and see what works. Maybe they will find the right issues to draw in young people. Above all, they have the money and connections to bring attention to the issue, at least the kind of fleeting, polite attention that money and connections can buy.

And I have to confess, I don't normally cover parties, or the type of politics that is conducted via handshakes and small talk. It might just be me who is naively expecting some congruence between the venue and atmosphere of a $300-per-person event and the cause it is ostensibly furthering. I think the off-key feeling for me could be summed up in this exchange with a young member of Generation Engage. I said I heard about the group when I got an email from Justin Rockefeller, "who had seen this article I wrote for the Washington Post." "Oh," he said, smiling. "Did you go to school with Justin?"

Monday, October 24, 2005

The American Dream

These guys sent me a sweet email yesterday. They are 4 22 and 23-year-olds driving around the country in an RV taking the pulse of Americans 18 to 25. They have corporate sponsors but seemingly not a corporate agenda, and they're working on a documentary, a blog & a book.

"The focus is on the way young people view their world and what their hopes are for America, for their community, and for themselves."

Man, I wish I was driving through Montana right now instead of stuck in Manhattan in the middle of the rainiest October on record.

Putting off Grad School: Not So Bad

From the Times, a not too judgmental story about the gap years that kids are taking after college to travel, do community service, work outdoors, etc:
"These are not necessarily unfocused people who are putting off launching,"
says a careers office guy from Harvard. "Often they have a plan and they have three or four things in mind that they want to experiment with." Cultural patterns have changed, too, with fewer people getting married immediately after college and fewer taking jobs with companies at which they expect to work for their entire careers, said Lisa Severy, director of career services at the University of Colorado.
The mind-set for many students is "you get your degree and then you think about what you might want to do," she said.

Of course, the story assumes that these kids are headed back to graduate school within a few years. It would be nice if they found at least one person who decided she wants to keep being a potter in New Mexico.
My friend Colleen Kinder wrote a whole book about this, called Delaying the Real World.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Student Loan Scamming

From the Washington Post today, sent by a friend at the Project on Student Debt:

...loopholes in student loan law that still permit a practice known as "recycling," which allows lenders to keep earning a very high 9.5 percent interest rate from the government on new loans...If senators are concerned about students, they should end double subsidies for lenders and give the money to students directly, in the form of Pell Grants. They could also support legislation backed by Sens. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) to retrieve some of the hundreds of millions of dollars wasted, completely needlessly, on this scam.
While they're at it, House members should put pressure on Mr. Boehner to release the Government Accountability Office report on student loan costs that he commissioned in January.

Way to go, guys!

Money quote of the day

From the Times' review of "Shopgirl," starring my old college classmate Claire Danes:

With her student loans, her futon furniture, her poky pickup truck and the antidepressants in her medicine cabinet, Mirabelle could be one of countless recent college graduates fumbling through early adulthood in the drifting, wanting state that sociologists used to call anomie.

Debt, a crappy retail job, cheap furniture and an old car. You call that "anomie"? I call that poverty, you patronizing old ...

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Low Wage...and Sexy

I was with a friend looking at those stupid Halloween costumes yesterday: sexy nurse, sexy stewardess, sexy devil, sexy cat. All of a sudden, there she was: a sexy...barista. Very short apron and hat in Starbucks green.

Young women toiling in low-wage, no-benefit service jobs behind counters all over America, rejoice: you are now officially fetish objects.

Update: Nina Lalli of the Voice onthe stupidness of sexy costumes.

Students Speak Up

From the Chronicle:

Students at 60 colleges across the United States made more than 1,000 telephone calls to members of Congress on Wednesday to protest proposed cuts in the federal government's student-loan programs.

Go USSA!

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Stuffing The Numbers

Direct loans--student loans lent directly by the federal government--are more efficient and 12 times cheaper for taxpayers than the loans that Sallie Mae earns billions on. The banks' profits basically = federal subsidies. The government's own numbers, in a report released September 29, say so. And Congress is keeping that report secret until October 28--2 days after the HEA goes back to the House committee, quite possibly for more cuts to student loans. The whole story, plus an alert to write your Congressperson, is at Student Loan Watch.

Why wouldn't Congress want an estimated $17 to $60 billion in free money to apply toward more student aid? The same $reason$ Congress tends to pass laws that favor other highly profitable corporations. See this Chronicle of Higher Education investigation for details:

.... over the last year and a half, officials with the loan industry and proprietary institutions [for-profit colleges] have given, individually and through political-action committees, or PAC's, almost $1 million in campaign contributions to the 49 members of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, according to Federal Election Commission records through the end of May. More than half of the money, about $540,000, has gone to the two Republican lawmakers in charge of drafting the higher-education legislation -- Reps. John A. Boehner of Ohio, who heads the full committee, and Howard P. (Buck) McKeon, who leads the panel's subcommittee on higher education.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Trend in Student Aid: Downward

The new annual report by the College Board, Trends in Student Aid 2005, came out today.
A factoid from the press release:
Between 1996-97 and 2001-02, total grant aid for undergraduates grew twice as fast as total borrowing, but since 2001-02, that pattern has reversed. In 2004-05, the percentage of total undergraduate aid in the form of grants declined for the third year in a row.

Here's some comments by Bob Shireman of the Project on Student Debt.
The College Board report shows that the trends in how Americans pay for college continue to tilt heavily toward loans. The largest increase is in private loans, which rose by about 30 percent in just one year, a strong indicator that more families are finding that they have little choice but to borrow in order to cover the rising cost of college.
The College Board report documents the continued rise of loans and the relative decline of need-based grants, meaning that the people who struggle hardest to get a college education have fewer and fewer options.

Your Crappy Summer Job--now on Reality TV

On MTV, psyched college girls are competing in "Miss Seventeen," a reality show where the prize is...an internship at Seventeen magazine. Forget the retro, sexist overtones of the whole pageant idea. In this junior miss version of the Apprentice, after all the no-doubt humiliating stunts they'll have to pull, couldn't the prize be an actual, paying job?

From the Seventeen website:
Only college students, eligible to receive school credit for their work are accepted. The internship is unpaid.

Student Borrowers Lose Out in Budget Process

As my last column pointed out, Katrina may lead to even more cuts to student aid, now through emergency "budget reconciliation" bills.

From a MoveOn email this morning:
Emergency campaign to save health care, student loans, and pensions
Here's a brief description of the budget process: Last spring, Congress passed a budget and tax blueprint calling for three major changes: $35 billion in cuts to vital national services, $70 billion in new tax cuts, largely for the wealthy, and an additional $35 billion tacked onto the deficit. This was bad policy before Katrina, but now it's a catastrophe. Responsible leaders on both sides of the aisle have called for canceling this process, called "budget reconciliation," in light of the cost and increased need created by the hurricane.
But instead of changing course, top Republicans are now using Katrina to argue for $15 billion in additional cuts to the services that the hurricane victims and other vulnerable Americans depend on the most.


From a press release today by the US Students Association and the State PIRG's Higher Education Project:
...the reauthorization of the 1965 Higher Education Act continues to be defined by a budget resolution that is at odds with the goals of the Act. As you know, many of America’s students and families find themselves struggling with college debt and affordability. Yet the budget resolution and reconciliation process asks that students, already in a financial hole, dig deeper.
Given the challenges facing students we believe it is imperative not to pay for tax cuts and disaster relief out of their pockets. Where efficiencies and savings can be identified in the student loan programs, we ought to direct these savings to students and to making higher education more affordable.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Speaking for The Forgotten Half

I've emailed back and forth with Justin Rockefeller, who has founded a new nonprofit called Generation Engage, which is refreshingly focused on getting non-college youth involved with politics.
from the site:
As young Americans – new voters, emerging professionals, and members of the rising labor force – the future at stake is our own. The policies, issues, and values debated by our nation’s leaders determine the quality of jobs available to us, the laws that govern our lives, the security of our nation, and the kind of America where we will raise our children.

from New York magazine:
We’re targeting young people who aren’t in college. We hope to hire young community leaders in every state to do things like identify local hot spots—Internet caf├ęs, bars, pool halls—and turn them into places where people talk politics.

John Edwards wants College for Everyone

An interview with the former senator on Campusprogress.org, a great all-around resource for political motivation. If you are a young progressive, check it out.
Glad to see him highlighting access to higher education as a crucial part of his general anti-poverty message.

We were also wondering if you could talk to us about your College for Everyone program in North Carolina that you launched a few weeks ago.
This is an idea that I talked about in my own presidential campaign. The idea is that any young person who has taken college prep work, who is qualified to go to college, and has stayed out of trouble, and is willing to go to work ten hours a week [will] be able to go their first year of college completely for free—tuition books etc, paid for. And what we’ve done to test the validity of this idea is found a place in eastern North Carolina , one the poorest counties in North Carolina , but the community is committed to doing something about their kids having a chance. And what we’ve done is, in Greene County , privately, we’ve raised the money for it to implement the program. In Greene County if you have taken all the prep courses, not gotten into trouble and commit to work ten hours a week, then your tuition and books will be paid for. The idea is many young persons who would not have gone to college will get a chance to go.

Privatization of Public Higher Education

From the Times this morning:

Taxpayer support for public universities, measured per student, has plunged more precipitously since 2001 than at any time in two decades, and several university presidents are calling the decline a de facto privatization of the institutions that played a crucial role in the creation of the American middle class.

It's not like we have to wonder what a fully private higher education system would be like. For the rich: luxury brand names like Swarthmore or St. John's College, at luxury prices:
$27, 516/yr average in 2004. Yes, there's loans and yes, there's scholarships for the lucky few strivers. For everyone else: Shady, Scandal-ridden for-profit colleges at a still-steep average price of around $12,000 a year.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

More on the Spellings Higher Education Commission

I was interviewed for this article on the website of Higher Education Washington, which publishes a newsletter on student lending and other insiderish info. Bryn Lansdowne actually talked to the members of the commission, which is more than I did before I wrote my Tom Paine piece. David Ward, of the American Council on Education, astutely identified the main topic before him and the rest of these guys: the public interest in higher education.

...The question of private versus public gain in higher education institutions needs to be addressed by the commission.“No one really knows what that proportion should be,” Ward said. Ward, the only representative of mainstream higher education policy [that's taken from my article, by the way],

said he plans to keep the public sector in mind during his membership on the committee.“I am much more alert to the interests of higher education, which often involves the public interest,” Ward said.

College is a public good. The benefits accrue not only to the graduate, but to her family and her community. In this way, college is sort of the mirror opposite of prison. As Jennifer Gonnerman has movingly written about, when someone goes off to prison, his mother loses a son, his child loses a father, his community loses a worker, and he loses time. All at a cost to the state of $25,000 a year--five times the average public university tuition.

Future of the Housing Market?

This NYT Mag cover story about McMansion developers is notable for this prediction about the state of housing for Gen Debt (ok, a little younger):

In the past couple of years, [home building exec Bob] Toll and his deputies have begun analyzing European housing data to see if they hold any lessons for a maturing American housing market. ..I asked Toll what our children - my kids are both under 8, I told him - would be paying when they're ready to buy. "They're going to live with us until they're 40," Toll said matter-of-factly. "And when they have their second kid, then we'll finally kick them out and make them pay for the house that we paid for. And that house will cost them 45 to 50 percent of their income."
I grew alarmed. Was he kidding? He assured me he was not...And that average, million-dollar insane home in the burbs? It's going to be $4 million."


I am writing this blog post from my 275-sq-ft! 1-bedroom in downtown Manhattan. Half the rent on this place is a third of my income (I actually pay a little less; my fiance pays more). To buy a place of a reasonable size in this neighborhood would start at 7 times our income and go up from there.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Yay Boston!

I'm honored to be featured in a little piece in the Boston Phoenix, the alt-weekly, about "10 journalists under 35 to watch" or some such. It's an interesting and eclectic bunch--I was especially intrigued by the new-media guys like Adrian Holovaty and Matt Thompson .
Not only is the first time I've been the subject of an article, it's the first time anyone has identified me as a blogger. I guess that's a milestone.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

New Project on Student Debt

It's not like we had a great national debate about whether we wanted to impose huge debts on young people. We just woke up one morning and it had happened. -- Pat Callan President, National Center on Public Policy and Higher Education

This great quote is one of many to be found on the new website for the Project on Student Debt. Finally, we have a serious research nonprofit devoted to the cause of excessive student loans and their impact on higher education. I expect to be linking to them often in the future.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Counterrecruiter Confrontations

In a preview of my next weeks' column, Inside Higher Ed reports on two campus confrontations between military recruiters and protesters that led to intervention by campus police and later, bigger, protests. What interests me? The 2 campuses were George Mason University, a large public university in Virginia* with over 29,000 students , and Holyoke Community College in Holyoke, MA. Here you have a student movement that evidently reaches young people of widely varied social backgrounds and political stripes**.
*This post originally, erroneously said "west virginia," and two commenters pointed out that the university in question is actually located in a fairly liberal part of VA. Point taken. You can read more about the confrontation in question here; the campus newspaper seems fairly sympathetic to the arrested guy, and another student is organizing a counterprotest on his behalf.
**I would hate to be the one to characterize the South as monolithically Republican. My larger point, which I think still holds, is the economic difference between university and community college students, who have nonetheless both found a common cause. In the New York area, there have been actions at Columbia U and Bronx Community College.

Financial Crises at CUNY, SUNY

According to this NYT article, New York's public universities are in deep financial trouble. From the president of the faculty union:

"We have reached the point of crisis,"

"Students are paying almost 50 percent of the operating costs," she said. "Professors have not had a raise in four years. Our salaries are not keeping pace. And we can't recruit new faculty."

According to state data, students at CUNY's four-year colleges paid less than $1,500 in tuition and fees in 1990, while the state provided $7,023 per student. In 2003, tuition and fees had risen to $4,300 while the state subsidy per student had fallen to $5,846.

There is no room in the 4-year public colleges for increasing numbers of community college students who want to transfer and get their bachelor's degree. SUNY is the country's largest public university system, with 400,000+ students.

This story points up something people don't often realize about higher education operating costs: the extent to which subsidies diminish the costs to students. Without increased public support for higher education, we could be looking at another doubling of the tuition charges in the next ten years.
PS: CUNY's union is talking strike.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

College Loan News

A good blog.

Getting Closer

I went over the copy editor's remarks and put in some last changes to the manuscript on Thursday--all day long, at the Riverhead office. I'm so excited for the book to really come out. Less than four months now.
The opening piece in the New York Times Magazine today was all like, "What's up with this emerging adulthood thing? Isn't it just an artifact of the Boomers' alarmist perception of young people?" Which is good as far as it goes. But all too familiarly, the writer, Ann Hulbert, whose most common subject is parenthood, glosses over the political and economic aspects of the phenomenon, in the final paragraph, thus:

[Turn of the century writer Randolph Bourne] went on to make a point that seems especially relevant these days, when college kids are saddled with debt - an adult experience if ever there was one - and young people are juggling jobs and lives in unscripted ways. For 25-year-olds looking back on life since 17, Bourne reflected, there are "so many crises, so many startling surprises, so many vivid joys and harrowing humiliations and disappointments, that one feels startlingly old; one wonders if one will ever feel so old again."

I can certainly relate to the description of the emotional state of being 25--the age I am today. Yet I think Hulbert makes a serious mistake to separate the effect (young people vague, unfocused) from the underlying causes (college debt, juggling jobs). It's like saying, oh, those Dust Bowl Okies! So unrooted! So confused! Such nomads!
Of course, that's just why I'm writing this book.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

US Military Recruits--Getting Dumber?

Smart story on Slate about an ominous US Military decision to lower the academic and mental aptitude standards for its recruits. They're doing this because they're running way low on recruits (my next Voice column is about the counterrecruitment movement, which takes some credit for that). Currently, contrary to popular perception, the ranks of the Army are comparable in racial/ethnic mix and academic achievement to the population of 18-24 year olds as a whole (although the recruits do differ from the gen population in geographic distribution, of course gender proportion, and most importantly class.)

The unpopularity of the war has forced the military into a corner. Either lower the quality of recruits (which they're trying now) introduce a draft (which Fred Kaplan says could happen only in a "genuine national emergency"-it may be sooner than we think) or go to the Bush administration and say we can't maintain current military commitments. What you would prefer may depend on the probability that you might find yourself on the front lines.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Katrina and College Aid

My latest column looks at how the hurricane has affected higher education. To me, the most shocking part of this story is not the shortsightedness of federal aid but the haphazard nature of the budget process. Basically, because the higher education act happens to still be up for debate, the Senate decides to scoop some more money out of it and put it into the new Katrina pot, because it's just easier than, say, reopening the pork-stuffed transportation bill.
Maybe I'm really naive, but this is dumb.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Bad Education: A Response

I wanted to respond to the following comment on my Tom Paine piece:
Anya, I very much enjoy your writing. In this article, you write: "He's up against Richard Vedder of the American Enterprise Institute, an economist who has written a book and testified before Congress on his very convenient view that federal student aid is bad for affordability, because it encourages colleges to raise prices, and should therefore be curbed immediately." Doesn't Mr. Vedder's view have a great deal of credibility? If possible, please say a little more about why you disagree with Mr. Vedder. Thanks.

Dr. Richard Vedder is a conservative economist at Ohio State University (American Enterprise Institute, National Review) who describes his theory of why college costs so much in his book Going Broke by Degree and in this testimony before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. He argues that there are inefficiencies in the higher education market. The ready availability of federal student aid makes students insensitive to price increases, which short-circuits the normal process of competition on price, and in turn encourages colleges to raise their tuition year after year without providing comparable improvements in quality.

I might be willing to agree with him, to a point. I think inefficiencies arise in the higher education market because students and parents are not fully informed about lower-cost college options, such as public vs. private schools, distance learning, vocational schools, and community colleges, and social stigmas also prevent people from shopping around. Also, the average higher education "customer" is not very well informed about the relationship between the tuition bill and the education they're getting, which allows schools to raise prices basically with impunity. Finally, the sources of funding and directions of spending for the average public university are so varied that it would be surprising if inefficiencies did not creep in--universities are often spending money on nonessential programs that don't serve the needs of their communities, and everyone likes to complain that bureaucracy and admin costs have gone out of control. I even agree with Vedder that it might not be a bad idea to put even more federal education aid in the hands of students, as a kind of voucher system.

Where Dr. Vedder and I differ fundamentally is in our views of the nature and purpose of higher education. Dr. Vedder complains that universities do not resemble businesses. "There is no clearly defined "bottom line" in traditional universities," he writes. "Did Stanford University have a good or bad year in 2003? How would we know?"
To me, one of the major values of our university system is its nonprofit, noncommercial status.
The university is one of the only institutions we have left in this society that is a truly public sphere. An institution like Stanford ought to measure its performance goals in generations, not in a single year.
Secondly, Dr. Vedder actually suspects that higher education's "negative externalities" may outweigh its "positive externalities." That is, the bad effects of universities, like higher taxes and the occasional campus riot, are worse than the effects of producing skilled workers, nourishing pure scholarship, shaping future citizens. I wish I could say that he is making this argument facetiously, for if not, why does he not resign his own senior faculty position? (I note he is teaching no classes this year, a deplorable example of the general productivity decline of which he complains.)

To sum up:
I don't want a guy making decisions about higher education at the highest level who doesn't see the difference between a university and a business, and I reiterate that it's very convenient for Spellings to appoint someone who thinks increased federal aid is a bad idea, whereas the vast majority of people in the field think it's called for.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Katrina and New orleans culture

This article by Michael Tisserand, the editor-in-exile of New Orleans' alt-newsweekly, the Gambit, is the most astute take I've seen yet on what's at stake in salvaging New Orleans culture. Most of us, far and near to it, don't even know what we've lost.

Bad Education

My first original piece for Tom Paine.com is up today. It's about the Department of Education's new Commission on the Future of Higher Education. Even though I used the editorial space to point out all of the commission's flaws ( a somewhat narrow definition of "21st century" as "engineering", no funding increases, the possibility of testing and accountability measures for colleges) I still think it provides a good opportunity for other education advocates to talk about what we would like to see change in the higher education sector. I don't think it's necessarily a bad idea to involve CEOs in a discussion with academics, to find out what experience and qualifications they want from new hires. (Microsoft and the Gates Foundation, in particular, are doing interesting things in this area.) And government and colleges could stand to have a more functional relationship where the value of higher education is cherished, instead of it being seen as a "cash cow" or "budget balancer" for state budgets.

Them that's got, shall get

I have a big story on the Voice website today about what I saw when I was down in Baton Rouge, where they have registered about 8,000 Katrina kids in the public schools. Basically, it seems that the same people are being forgotten who are always being forgotten. This is Louisiana after all.

On the other hand, this disaster has raised a really good discussion about the social safety net, bringing a lot of conservative policies into serious question. The victims of Katrina need affordable health care, and the government is the only one who can realistically provide it on the scale necessary. They need affordable housing--ditto. (The link is to an editorial by the super-conservative Heritage Foundation which has joined in an ideologically diverse coalition to support Katrina federal housing vouchers). They are unfairly victimized by the new bankruptcy law--so is everyone. Basically, Katrina is just a large acute impossible-for-conservatives-to-ignore version of life: the unavoidable, unpredictable misfortunes that threaten everyone and require a collective response.
(sermon over) (Krugman's version of same)

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Teaching America

Finally, a story about young adults doing something good--spending two years teaching in poor schools after college graduation. I believe John Kerry proposed expanding this idea into a full national service program, providing money for college to those willing to do some do-gooding afterwards. Not a bad approach to youth underemployment.