Arnold Ahlert / July 22, 2019

Eliminating Educational Apartheid

Two bills introduced by Sen. Josh Hawley aim to break up the education “monopoly.”

In what would amount to a societal shift of epic proportions were it to succeed, U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) has filed two bills in an effort to break up what he labels a “higher education monopoly” that has saddled thousands of students with massive levels of debt.

The first piece of legislation Hawley proposed aims to “amend the Federal Pell Grant Program to support career training opportunities for young Americans,” as the bill states. Toward that end, Hawley wants the Department of Education to develop “an alternative certification program” in order to allow the federal financial-aid program to be used for things like apprenticeships, digital boot camps, and other job-training programs.

“There’s no reason we should only be privileging those students who want to go to traditional four year institutions,” Hawley explained to Hill.TV in a phone interview. “We need to allow these opportunities in the form of these tax dollars to follow these students into other opportunities, other outlets that will help them get the skills they need to get the career path that’s right for them.”

Hawley insists the bills were motivated by input from his constituents. “The factor is talking to families all across our state over and over again,” he stated. “Students and workers who say they need more opportunities for jobs. They need job training. They need to get skills training. They need to get the kind of vocational training that they want and need for the workforce.”

More important, those he spoke with told him they wanted to get that training without having to take on the “burden” of financing four-year degrees whose costs have been skyrocketing. “You shouldn’t have to take on a mountain of debt and get a four-year degree that you don’t want in order to get a good job in our state or our country,” Hawley said.

Indeed. And while Hawley likens the current status quo to a “monopoly,” the term is not quite accurate — unless one is referring to a monopoly-like mentality American students and their families have inflicted on themselves for decades. While there are number of good jobs that don’t require four-year college degrees — or no degree at all — most Americans remain afflicted with the mindset best described by Mike Rowe: “There are millions of parents in the country right now, millions, who genuinely feel that if they don’t do everything they can to get their kid into a good school they will fail the kid.”

To be fair, a 1971 Supreme Court ruling in Griggs v. Duke Power Co. that maintained employers could only require educational credentials that were reasonably job-related, and that any company’s educational or testing qualifications engendering “disparate impact” violated the 1964 Civil Rights Act, precipitated a change best described by a 2008 paper, “Griggs v. Duke Power: Implications for College Credentialing.” Authors Bryan O'Keefe and Richard Vedder explained that many employers, knowing that aptitude testing and high-school diplomas had become legally hazardous, began using college degrees to screen out applicants they didn’t want to hire. “Griggs turned the college degree into a ‘credential,’” the authors noted. “The content of the education did not change, but the degree — the sheepskin — became a necessary first step for a decent job.”

Hawley sees an alternative. “American students and workers need more pathways into the middle class, more opportunities to get good work and build bright futures,” he said in a statement. “And they shouldn’t have to further enrich colleges by taking on a mountain of debt or mortgage their lives in order to get a good-paying job.”

No doubt, but it will be fascinating to see if Democrats, who bemoan income inequality, while embracing the vote-buying scheme of “free” college that does nothing to mitigate higher education’s escalating costs, would opt for a very viable — and far cheaper — alternative.

Hawley’s second bill, aptly titled the “Skin in the Game Act,” directly addresses the odious dynamic whereby taxpayers are on the hook for all student-loan defaults, giving colleges no incentive whatsoever to control costs. This bill would make colleges themselves liable for 50% of student-loan defaults “used towards the cost of attendance at the institution.” Furthermore, it contains a “no offset” provision that would prohibit those same colleges from raising tuition, student fees, or any other costs associated with attendance to offset the costs of those defaults.

As Hawley explains, this bill is “meant to address the concentration of power that has accumulated in the higher education space.” He further explains that many colleges “have built massive endowments that [have] been enabled by federal tax dollars” while “they have gobbled those up and raised tuition so students have not benefited at all.”

A 2018 NPR article’s title succinctly explains why this is an idea whose time has come: “High-Paying Trade Jobs Sit Empty, While High School Grads Line Up For University.”

That’s only part of the problem. Nothing speaks to the growing level of tribalism in America better than the mentality — nurtured at countless universities around the nation — that Americans without college degrees are somehow less “worthy” than their more elitist counterparts. As Boston University professor emeritus Angelo Codevilla explains, “Our ruling class recruits and renews itself not through meritocracy but rather by taking into itself people whose most prominent feature is their commitment to fit in.”

College is an essential part of that commitment, and perhaps nothing says it plainer than the media’s shameless effort to convince Americans that only less educated or poorly educated voters carried Trump to victory in 2016.

Really? Could anything be more intellectually vapid than believing, as millions of highly credentialed Democrats and their “enlightened” followers apparently do, that there is a such a thing as “free” college or health care? Does anyone remember that our “best and brightest” brought the financial system to the brink of disaster in 2008, accumulated $22 trillion of national debt and counting, and precipitated polarization unseen since the Civil War? How many millions of Americans have been completely dismissed as “irredeemable/deplorable/bitter clingers” by those who view half the nation as “flyover country?”

And how many elitist Americans would abet millions of unskilled, uneducated illegals invading this nation in lieu of teaching their children the notion there are “jobs Americans refuse to do” is a morally bankrupt proposition driven by that same elitist arrogance?

Hawley’s bills would go a long way toward addressing a long-nurtured schism tearing this nation apart. And it behooves Congress to take on the vested interests who would oppose this attempt to level the playing field.

It’s what equality of opportunity is really all about.

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