Over at The Chronicle, several articles lay out President Obama's plan to control college costs. I think a look at the bigger picture is in order. To wit:
1. Make the "job creators" who have had massive tax breaks since 2002--remember those bank bailouts?-- work a little harder at developing and sustaining solid, middle-class jobs in this country. The Dow and NASDAQ keep going up, and Marketplace keeps playing its happy song "We're in the Money," but what does that mean for people who can't get a job? We keep seeing all these worried articles about "the American people aren't spending enough," and then someone speculates, "do you suppose it's because they don't have jobs or don't feel certain about the jobs they have?" Gee, ya think?
2. Do something about the student loan crisis. I'm not an economist, and surely economics bloggers like nicoleandmaggie are cringing at my naïveté right now, but I fail to understand why large corporations can get virtually 0% borrowing and can declare bankruptcy if they have to pay pensions, but the best we can do for students is temporarily not raising rates to 6.8% and promising that they won't go above 8.25 (and way more for parents).
Students are graduating with the equivalents of unsaleable houses on their backs, mortgage-level debt in some cases, and they do not have the privileges of corporations in borrowing or declaring bankruptcy. If you want to know why young Americans aren't buying cars, here's a tip: it's not necessarily because they're save-the-earth hipsters. They can't afford it.
3. Think before you act on the MOOC model. In what may be an example of tongue-in-cheek understatement, the Chronicle observes that "Evidence for the effectiveness of MOOCs remains thin, if nonexistent." Thomas L. Friedman is invoked as though he actually has a ghost of a clue about what is happening in education.
Again: education is a good thing, and college graduates fare better than those who don't graduate, but simply focusing on flipping classrooms doesn't help with the one-two punch of punishing levels of debt and high unemployment.