Friday, July 28, 2006

David Brooks is Full of It

I was crafting a response to David Brooks's column on why tuition assistance for families having trouble paying for college is useless, but this TimesSelect reader did it for me:

James Hathaway, Charlotte, N.C.: Predictably, you are making excuses for why the government shouldn't be spending money, though there is a clear need for the expenditure. Yes, there are many social reasons why some students fail to complete college besides finances, but that doesn't mean that there isn't a desperate need for financial support. For those of us who are not in the standard tax bracket for financial conservatives, the cost of college — even the cheapest state schools — has become prohibitive, and continues to become more so. Many of the social problems you cite are really red herrings, either issues that are insoluble — for instance, the divorce rate — or prohibitively expensive to fix, like public education.

I've been working in higher education for over 20 years and have seen the stress that college cost puts on even highly motivated students. Many work full-time while trying to carry a full course load and then — guess what? Yes, many are poorly prepared and many are unmotivated, but the financial burden is generally one of the most likely straws to break the camel's back.

More to the point of the current legislation, as Congress continues to cut things like Pell Grants, is the fact that unless something is done quickly, the number of students who drop out or who don't apply at all is going to increase rapidly. My own children have guidance counselors who advise vast swaths of their charges to go to community college instead for the first two years because it is cheaper in the long run. But it's actually not. You worry periodically about the future competitiveness of America — think about this a bit the next time before you create more spin for why it is futile to support education in America.

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