WASHINGTON – Andrew Martin is one college graduate who has yet to see a return on his investment in higher education.
Martin,24,of Austin, Texas,who describes himself as “a college graduate who often wonders why I went,” said the cost of his college education was “drastically higher than the benefit.”
He graduated from George Washington University in 2006 with a bachelor's degree in international affairs and Latin American studies. He has been unemployed since August.
Martin attended a briefing on Capitol Hill Tuesday sponsored by the Cato Institute on the state of federal financial aid and some of President Obama's postsecondary education policy proposals.
Andrew Gillen,research director for the Center for College Affordability and Productivity,and Neal McCluskey,associate director of the Cato Institute's Center for Educational Freedom,discussed the “ineffectiveness” of the federal financial aid system and the costs of college compared to its benefits.
The Cato Institute is a libertarian nonprofit public policy research foundation.
“There doesn't seem to be a shortage of college graduates in general,” Gillen said. “It's far from clear to me that vast increases in college enrollment are called for at this time. A better focus,in my humble opinion,is to focus on increasing the quality of opportunity.”
Hilary Shelton,the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Washington bureau director defends federal aid to students.
He said federal financial aid programs are “absolutely necessary,” though “there is room for improvement. … There are many American children that don't have the means to pay for college.”
Nearly two-thirds of undergraduate college students in 2003 and 2004 received some type of financial aid,according to the National Center for Education Statistics. According to its 2003-04 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study,in 2003 and 2004,the average amount of grants was $4,000 per student,and the average amount borrowed by undergraduates was $5,800.
About 74 percent of black college students,69 percent of Hispanic college students and 60 percent of white college students “are dependent on some form of financial aid,” Shelton said.
A person with a college degree is expected to earn more than a million dollars more over their lifetime than a person without a college degree,he added.
“We're a society in which you can transcend class with education,” Shelton said,saying federal grants are an important element of that success.
The American Association of University Women estimates that by 2014 there will be 4 million new jobs for which postsecondary education will likely be necessary. AAUW promotes gender equity through advocacy,education and research.
According to the 2008 UUAW report,”Where the Girls Are: The Facts About Gender Equity in Education,” men and women with bachelor's degrees earned more money than those without.
Gillen noted two problems with financial aid programs.
First,he said the financial aid process,particularly the Free Application for Federal Student Aid,a “mess.”
“It's way too long,way too confusing,and the end result is that many students who should be getting aid because they come from disadvantaged backgrounds,they don't even fill out the form,they don't get the aid that they're qualified for,” he said.
The second problem,Gillen said,is that “financial aid programs often contribute to the explosion in costs and in tuition.”
Prospective students tend to judge schools not on the success of their graduates but by what the campus offers. Gillen said that encourages schools to spend more for unnecessary programs and amenities,raising costs and the need for financial aid.
“We shouldn't be increasing student aid across the board,and certainly at the federal level,but we should be decreasing it and targeting it better,if we were to keep it at all,” McCluskey said.
He said Obama's statement during his congressional address in February,that all U.S. citizens should pursue at least one additional year of post-secondary education,encourages people who may not be prepared for,or interested in,higher education to pursue it.
“There's no moral justification for providing free money to somebody,so that,first and foremost,they can increase their earning potential over time,” he said. “In other words you're saying,‘I'm going to take money from a taxpayer who may not have gone to college,and then give it someone else so that they can earn that premium.'”
Martin said he decided to go to college after doing a study abroad program in the Dominican Republic when he was in high school because he wanted to help increase development in Latin America.
“I learned more about that by reading on my own after I graduated than I did from the classes I took,” he said. That made him wonder if he should have skipped college or gone to a less expensive school.
“I agree with a lot of what these guys say,” Martin said,”when the federal government gets its hands in things,prices are distorted,costs are distorted,and you don't really understand whether the benefits you get out of college will be worth what you put into it.”