Obama has made some strides on behalf of struggling young voters, but they’re hard to cheer for because they don’t help us stand on our own two feet — such as letting us stay on our parents’ health insurance until age 26, one of the first Obamacare policies to be implemented. It’s wonderful that 6.6 million more people can now go to the doctor, but the policy is a stopgap that forces an extended dependence on our families.
Or take the cost of college. Over the past few years, Obama fought with Congress several times to protect need-based Pell grants — a worthy end. But college tuition kept rising, on average, more than 5 percent each year at public universities, and overall student indebtedness has grown at about the same rate.
In 2010, Obama cut middlemen bankers out of the student loan program, saving the federal government an estimated $68 billion in subsidies over 10 years. Most of the money will go to shore up Pell grants, but $20 billion is leaving the student loan program to help reduce the federal deficit.
Similarly, in the showdown in Congress this Juneover a scheduled doubling of the student loan interest rate, Democrats kept the rate at 3.4 percent for another year, saving 7.5 million borrowers about $1,000, but they gave up the traditional six-month grace period between graduation and the start of repayment. All interest subsidies for graduate students also went away. The total savings to students over the next decade: $6 billion. New costs to students: an estimated $20 billion.
The drama over keeping interest rates down obscured the real issue: Providing more student aid doesn’t make education more affordable — it just makes it easier for colleges to raise prices. Vice President Biden admitted this controversial point in Februaryin response to a question at Florida State University: “By the way, government subsidies have impacted upon rising tuition costs.” Translation: more debt for students.
Rather than increasing young people’s dependency on the government, their families and private lenders to pay for college, it would be better to find ways to directly reduce higher-education costs. The Obama administration has made some effort to this end but could do far more. Over four years, starting in 2011, the Labor and Education departments are awarding $2 billion to community colleges to implement open-licensed digital materials and shared courses, among other innovations that could drive down the cost of higher education while updating how it’s delivered.
Low-cost, high-quality education is possible: Western Governors University — a nonprofit online institution based in Utah that has recently been integrated with the public university systems in Texas, Indiana and Washington state— offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees for $6,000 a year, a cost that has remained flat for five years. It’s the leading provider of master’s degrees for the nation’s math teachers. But federal regulations that equate time with learning make it difficult for many efficient and productive models such as this to spread.