Recent student protests against tuition increases in the U.K. and California demonstrate that such upticks invoke strong reactions in student communities and can quickly spiral out of control.
For two years President Obama and Congressional Democrats have pushed federal policies that separate low-income and minority students from quality education. It is only a matter of time before the breadth of these cuts becomes part of the national dialogue and minority students notice -- and erupt.
In March 2009, the President terminated the Opportunity Scholarship Program – school vouchers providing educational lifelines for 3,700 African-American students in the nation’s capital.
In five years and half the per-pupil cost of DC’s abysmal public system, voucher students increased reading scores by 19% and high school graduation rates 12%. Every year saw four times more applicants than slots.
Current students are safe until graduation, but future opportunity was stolen from DC’s at-risk youth when the President and Congress – led by the Congressional Black Caucus – canceled the program and voted down Republican amendments to extend it.
Then came transitioning post-secondary education financing from a successful private-public partnership to full government control. These massive changes were added to Obamacare at the last minute and passed by Democrats with virtually no public discussion.
Touted by the President as a way to attract more students to college, these reforms are likely to create more problems than they solve.
Low-income students often use education credit cards to temporarily pay college costs while awaiting federal grants and loans. Now after “reform,” these cards have lower limits, and as bureaucrats replace private workers, checks will now be processed with the lightening speed and efficiency of the DMV.
Those who can least afford bridging college payments with personal resources will be most likely to cut back on classes as a result of due date/payment gaps.
Instead of providing additional grant monies directly to African-American students for use at the colleges of their own choice, President Obama is instead giving billions directly to Historically Black Colleges and Universities whose overall graduation rates are low.
HBCU graduation averages are about 36%, well below the 45% national average for African-Americans. Results vary widely from 77% for Atlanta’s Spelman College to 7% at the University of the District of Columbia (see “DC vouchers cancelled” above.)
Many HBCU’s are fine institutions. But over 20 non
-HBCU schools have graduation rates over 85% for Blacks, including the University of Virginia and Northwestern; ten mainstream schools – including Harvard - boast rates over 90%.
A key concern of opponents to government-controlled federal scholarship aid was fear of political manipulation and “payback,” and now it appears such fears were warranted.
Enter career colleges and technical schools like Strayer University, Kaplan and ITT Tech -- heavily invested in online learning and providing post-secondary educational opportunity to non-traditional, mature students.
Eyeing this successful model, many mainstream universities now offer career-based Internet classes. Virginia’s Liberty University, for example, boasts 35,000 online students.
The typical career college student is not typical. Most are over 25, low-income and minority. Over 40% are Black or Hispanic, and women comprise the majority. Work experience credits are available, and many welfare moms find career colleges their best, and sometimes only option.
Career college instructors also fall out of professorial norms. Most teach a discipline in which they are employed, are not concerned with tenure, and instruction is often not their full-time job.
Therefore, these schools and instructors have been resistant to the unions that capture college professors - American Federation of Teachers, National Educational Association and American Association of University Professors.
The Obama Department of Education is now proposing severe restrictions to federal financial aid only for students enrolled in (non-union) career colleges and technical schools
that would cripple the ability of this often-struggling cohort of low-income, minority and female students to earn post-secondary degrees.
Where is Al Sharpton? La Raza? The National Organization for Women?
An avalanche of complaints to the Department of Education has delayed the ruling, and with the current national hyperawareness of tuition struggles facing college students and their families, now is the time for this issue to hit the spotlight.
Let’s hope restoring educational opportunity for those who need it most replaces this latest example of the Administration and Congressional Democrats placing the needs of their special interests over American students striving for success.