Cuomo College Catastrophe

David Brooks gives us eight reasons to think that Cuomo’s college is counterproductive. Generally, terrible proposals have between one to three things really wrong with them, the rest is decoration. The sum of decoration can make for distraction. It’s my impression that Brooks’ complaints here are an illustration of this principle.

Cuomo’s college plan, The Excelsior scholarship, makes tuition free at New York public colleges for anyone coming from a family making more than 100k a year. This will save a family making $100k a year, $26k. Not insubstantial. Students must attend school full time and graduate in two to four years to be eligible. This rules out 60 percent of students at four-year colleges.

Brooks’ complaints are:

  1. The law does nothing to help students of poor families making less than 50k a week. Their tuition is already covered.
  2. It doesn’t alleviate any difference to non-tuition fees.
  3. It doesn’t help part-time students.
  4. It demotivates students.
  5. It will, maybe, destroy some of NY’s private colleges as upper-class-middle-class students may be drawn away from them and to public colleges.
  6. More students will apply, which means schools can be more selective, which will continue increasing income inequality.
  7. NY schools rely on tuition to fund programs.
  8. Students have to stay in New York for four years after graduation.

You needn’t read the article anymore!

Brooks seems to think that college should have some cost (otherwise it will be demotivating), but that it currently has too high of a cost for poor families? But also that free tuition isn’t sufficiently motivating to be on track to graduate?

He notes that making college “free” allows schools to be more selective. This is true but schools are already very selective. Over the years, higher-ed schools have become better and better at selecting the top students. While this occurred, the top students are becoming less dynamic and more insulated. That is top students spend more time with each other, clustered geographically and socially, and less time with others. This increases income inequality, however bad that is. What’s worse is that is may decrease productivity.

Brooks concludes:

We’re all focused on Trump, but one of the reasons Trump was elected was that many of the people who try to use government to do good just haven’t thought things through.

Lovely line. But what is the good here that Brooks is after? Making college more affordable for poor students? Why think that that will be good for productivity or decreasing income inequality? He’s right to think, even if implicitly, that Cuomo is probably trying to ride the free school wave for a bit and not much else. But he risks doing much the same on the higher education wave.

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