Free college plan laudable but ideological

Chris Rickert

Far be it from me to diss two free years of college for every American student.

And there are some decent reasons to support a recent proposal from a pair of UW-Madison faculty that would provide just that.

The problem is that students could get their free rides only at public institutions, and only if the federal government agreed to start stiffing the private ones. That’s as much an ideological shot across the bow as a way to solve problems plaguing higher education.

With tuition and student debt loads soaring, the paper by associate professors Sara Goldrick-Rab and Nancy Kendall was sure to get attention.
To free up the money needed to make their new entitlement possible, they propose cutting private colleges and universities off from the $80 billion money spigot known as federal financial aid.

Privates aren’t worthy of taxpayer dollars, they argue, in part because they aren’t subject to the same oversight as public institutions, and they eat up a disproportionate share of student aid.

While they enrolled only about 29 percent of undergraduates in 2012-13, privates collected 35 percent of Pell grants and 49 percent of Supplemental Educational Opportunity grants, the authors note.

There’s no doubt that some johnny-come-lately, for-profit private colleges have taken advantage of government largesse while failing to graduate students.

In a story last week in the UW-Madison student newspaper, The Daily Cardinal, Goldrick-Rab calls out the University of Phoenix specifically.
But for every University of Phoenix, there’s an Edgewood College or a Beloit College — long-standing, mission-driven, nonprofit and generally positive influences on Wisconsin and the rest of the world.