Korobov: Obama's education plan doesn't address the real issues


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This Tuesday, the Daily Iowan had the honor of publishing a guest opinion piece by President Barack Obama. The Op Ed discusses education: the President’s achievements in keeping interest rates low for student loans as well as his plan to institute a free two-year community college program and a Student Aid Bill of Rights.

The President is correct in his argument that education must maintain a priority in our lives if we intend to have a pathway into the middle class. His methodology, however, will not lead to a more advanced education system.

The President believes that the price of community college should be zero because “every student deserves access to a quality, affordable education”. The concept isn’t a novel one. America already has a public education system that ends at high school – and it’s performing abhorrently.

The Huffington Post analyzed a comprehensive report and found that “the United States spends more than other developed nations on its students’ education each year”. This includes the cost per student as well. Despite this, the U.S. is ranked number 14 on the Pearson Global Education Index, behind both Russia and China. The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) ranks the US high schools as 36th in mathematics, 28th in science, and 24th in reading. The U.S. also requires high school students to stay in school until age 18, which is longer than most other nations.

It’s clear that the problem does not lie in the funding or length of education in America, but what is going on inside the classrooms. By making community college free, high school is essentially extended for another two years for students who choose to not attend other forms of higher education. Thus, the problem isn’t fixed; the process is expanded to eat up two more years of our lives with a $2 billion dollar price tag.

To prove that the quality of education won’t get better, one can look to the President’s requirements to qualify for free community college. While the President states that “you’ve got to earn it”, the necessary GPA is a 2.5. Most students can agree that this is not a terribly tedious task for those that apply themselves.

The President also touts his reforms to student loan programs which are intended to keep interest rates low for student borrowing. The problem with such programs is that they stimulate an artificial demand that otherwise wouldn’t exist. The Economist conducted a report in which they concluded that 20-year return for many colleges is worse than the return of a 20-year Treasury Bill.

Financially speaking, depending on the college and major, a student may be better off by investing in a government security and skipping college altogether.

The truth is that college does not make sense for everybody, yet the inflated demand allows many colleges to keep raising tuition without consequence. The same report showed that the “cost of university per student has risen by almost five times the rate of inflation since 1983.” The quality has not matched the price hike. A TIME poll found that only 55 percent of higher-ed grads believe colleges prepares them for a job.

I am very grateful to have chosen The University of Iowa for my higher education. Having emigrated to the U.S. from Ukraine, one of the most fascinating topics I have studied here has been how the U.S. prevailed after the Cold War, while the Soviet Union crumbled. The Soviet Union’s economy was based on extensive growth, increasing inputs to generate higher outputs. Contrarily, the U.S. economy expanded through efficiency and innovative technologies.

In this way, the President wants to expand our education system extensively; lengthening the time we are in school and creating more applicants for universities who can’t afford it. Mr. President, these are not the solutions my family immigrated here for.

Perhaps the American way should instead constitute a focus on strengthening the quality of education intensively. Offering voucher programs to allow students the option of opting for a private school or instituting more performance-based incentives for teachers have been the most popular suggestions. Restoring true demand through market interest rates would allow universities to compete and find innovative methods to lower tuition. These American solutions must drive the future.

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