The New York Times—the most valuable real estate in journalism—devotes its op-ed space today to an argument by University of Chicago professor Luigi Zingales to “eliminate government subsidies” of college students (by which he apparently means all Pell Grants and federal student loans). He would replace this system with one in which venture capitalists invest in promising students and in return, receive “a fraction of a student’s future income,” or, better yet, “a fraction of the increase in her income that derives from college attendance.”
This proposal is worth discussing not because there is much danger that it will literally come to pass but because it shines sunlight on the mind-set of many conservatives, exposing a way of thinking that does in fact result in many policy decisions that are hurting American higher education.
There are lots of problems with Zingales’s proposal, but the most important one is that it conceptualizes higher education as an almost purely private good. His new system, he says “would make only the beneficiaries of a college education—not all taxpayers—pay for the costs of it.”
Quality and equity in education must be conceived as concomitant. Based on its global data, the OECD recently drew precisely this conclusion: “The highest-performing education systems across the OECD countries are those that combine quality with equity.”
According to a piece by Beryl Lieff Benderly in the latest issue of the Columbia Journalism Review, critics may have vastly overstated the real need for STEM experts. As Benderly writes:
Leading experts on the STEM workforce, have said for years that the US produces ample numbers of excellent science students. In fact, according to the National Science Board’s authoritative publication Science and Engineering Indicators 2008, the country turns out three times as many STEM degrees as the economy can absorb into jobs related to their majors.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with having too many scientists, right? Scientific minds can invent wonderful things and fuel economic progress. Why would some experts, like the gentleman from Boeing, overstate the need for scientists? Well the more STEM professionals are out there, the cheaper they get. More STEM people means companies don’t have to pay them much.