By Bryan O’Keefe
The Wall Street Journal had an excellent story yesterday detailing the Democratic Presidential nominee’s positions on government student loan programs. For the most part, the Democrats want to tinker with the student loan programs in a way that would cut out private companies and force students and families to rely solely on the government for these programs. While it’s a good idea to tinker with the program, this type of tinkering is probably in the wrong direction. Instead of taking the private companies out of the equation, we should be moving more and more to a system that takes advantage of the services that private companies offer, not just the government.
But hey, even if the idea is bad, at least the Democrats have some ideas. We can not say the same thing for the Republican nominees. The GOP gets short mention at the end of the story and it’s fairly obvious that none of the candidates have seriously thought about student loans or probably even higher education in general. None of them offer their own plans or much in the way of blowback against the Democrats proposal.
Of course, we all know that higher ed is not going to decide the next election. But the issue is hot and it’s something that many families across America are facing. It seems foolish that the GOP would ignore the issue entirely or only develop a half-hearted response. There is probably some thinking that “higher ed is a Democratic issue” and that’s also silly. There are plenty of free-market reforms (that GOP candidates traditionally favor or at least used to favor) that could be implemented in higher ed, if somebody had the actual courage to propose them (Any candidate or staffer – Dem or GOP – that is interested in these types of reforms can pick up a copy of Going Broke by Degree: Why College Costs Too Much as a starting point).
Here’s also another idea that some intrepid candidate (again Dem or GOP) might want to examine – what role do college endowments play in the ever rising cost of higher education? Our friend Lynne Munson has provided everyone with tremendous congressional testimony and op-eds on this issue. Instead of just more money, more money, more money and cutting out private companies whenever possible, maybe we should start asking college endowments to start footing some of these bills? The richest colleges and universities have more money than everybody realizes and right now they can just sit upon their piles of cash, without the same payout requirements that other non-profits must adhere to. This is on top of the favored tax treatment that colleges and universities receive. Why do we let these endowments escape without paying any taxes and without having any obligations to taxpayers, students, families? It’s an issue that might resonate with voters, especially since higher ed is viewed (rightly or wrongly) as being arrogant and aloof by most “regular” people.
Like I said, this isn’t necessarily a Democratic or Republican issue and in fact I think there is a strong non-partisan element to it. But the Republicans look like they are out of ideas right now, so maybe they would benefit most from it. Like it or not, there is no doubt that the Democratic Party and their candidates are thinking much more about higher education and student loans these days.