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Member since: 2001
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Sanders free college plan: Some Thoughts

The US is unlike other countries that have free college in many different ways. One way is having both a private and state Universities. Another is having a highly federal system, in which state colleges and universities are run not by the federal governments but by the individual states, with individual states setting admissions policies, expenditure rates, etc so that universities in different states are funded at very different levels.

So you have to ask, how this plan works and what are its consequences in the peculiar setting of higher education that you find in America.
Once you start thinking about how this actually works and its actual effects and then you take a look at the actual proposal -- at least to the extent it reflects the legislation he introduced last year -- you get the feeling that he has thought through very little of this. Here is his actual bill.


I don't pretend to know the answers to all the questions I raise below. But it does seem that Sanders proposal would be highly disruptive and would vastly alter the landscape of American Higher education in ways that he does not seem to fully anticipate. Perhaps for the good, perhaps not. It's much more than a "free tuition" plan. It's a plan to radically alter the educational landscape in America.

First, start with the fact that it's a plan for public Colleges and Universities only.

Here's a chart that shows the relative number of students who attend public and private Universities and Colleges both historically and projected out to 2024.


Obvious point, since Sanders program applies to PUBLIC universities and colleges only, the cost (to students) gap between public and private universities is bound to significantly increased. And that suggest that the DEMAND for spaces in public universities will significantly increase. Unless SPACES in public universities increase as well, that means COMPETITION for spaces in public universities will become more intense.

How will that competition be managed? Will admission standards go up? Will we become like European Countries in which you have very restricted choices as to where you go to school. Part of the "bargain" that you get in Europe from free college is often that a single test determines if you go to college and where you go to college. America, by the way, has a MUCH more free and open University system than any country in Europe.

The analogy with public secondary education is a false one. We GUARANTEE places in a public school (supposedly an equally good public school, but that's a fantasy we all know) to every single child. Will we really guarantee a place in a public University to EVERY SINGLE STUDENT OF AGE? Doubt it. But if we do and if we lack the capacity, we must then develop the capacity to educate all students. States won't be able to ship excess students off to another state. And won't be able to say to some -- out of luck you have to "pay for a private school." (although some students no doubt still will, but you can worry about whether this will drive many especially lesser and financially precarious private schools out of business -- is that the plan, perhaps?).

We don't currently make such guarantees for colleges and universities -- though with the multi-faceted but highly tiered system in America (elite research universities, public and private, large state U systems that are multitiered, junior colleges, etc, most people can find a place.. Here in California, though, many, many, campuses in the Cal State system are "impacted." That is, they MUST turn away many many eligible students. So that's a big question, how do we manage the likely to be much increased competition for spaces in public colleges and universities? To every qualified student? How will we determine who is qualified and who is not or who among the qualified gets in? Is that to be left to the states? Will the be federal constraints on how states manage the increased competition? Sanders bill is silent on this.

One thing to note is that Sanders proposal only requires that states guarantees free tuition to In State students. States must, according to bullet point (2) of the legislation:

(2) ensure that tuition and required fees for in- State undergraduate students in the State’s public
higher education system are eliminated

I suppose that they are free to do the same for out of state students. But the proposal doesn't require them to do so and doesn't really incentivize them to do so either, as far as I can tell.

This is another thing, then, that seems to have the potential to significantly alter the incentive structure for students. It will incentivize more students to stay in State. Not only will it will make staying in state a a much more attractive option to both parents and students, but it will make it harder for state Universities to attract the much desired "out of state student" unless they can afford to make tuition free to out of state students too. But since the taxpayers of each state are still asked to kick in much of the cost of this, it is not clear that they will want to do this. In California, those already impacted Cal State campuses -- which accept almost not out of state students anyway (indeed, they accept almost no students from outside of what's called their local service area) -- will perhaps be even more impacted, as competition to get in them is only intensified.

Currently, some states, like probably Ohio, which was many, many more Universities than California, with many fewer students to attend them, may have a relative under-capacity. But California clearly has an under capacity. California exports lots of its students to public and private universities around the country. Ohio imports lots of students from other states. What will happen to this flow of students from state to state? Will Ohio have to cut capacity, while California grows capacity?

And what, more generally, about controlling costs? With greater demand and increased competition, you either have to grow capacity or restrict access. Growing capacity costs money. Sanders proposal makes no mention of this. Restrict access seems to be against the spirit of the proposal. We could go down the European route -- indeed there seems to build in pressure to go down that route from this proposal. Students are heavily tracked into college vs. vocational options. Mandatory entrance exams basically determine their entire fate. A high degree of government control over access is the cost you pay for having the government foot the entire bill.

Notice that what Sanders actual bill requires states to do along the line is the following:

(1) ensure that public institutions of higher
education in the State maintain per-pupil expenditures on instruction at levels that meet or exceed the
expenditures for the previous fiscal year;

(2) ensure that tuition and required fees for in-State undergraduate students in the State’s public
higher education system are eliminated;

(3) maintain State operating expenditures for public institutions of higher education, excluding the amount of funds provided for a fiscal year under this section, at a level that meets or exceeds the level of such support for fiscal year 2015;

(4) maintain State expenditures on need-based financial aid programs for enrollment in public institutions of higher education in the State at a level
24 that meets or exceeds the level of such support for fiscal year 2015;

(5) ensure public institutions of higher edu- cation in the State maintain funding for institutional need-based student financial aid in an amount that is equal to or exceeds the level of such funding for the previous fiscal year;

(6) provide an assurance that not later than 5 years after the date of enactment of this Act, not less than 75 percent of instruction at public institu- tions of higher education in the State is provided by tenured or tenure-track faculty;

(7) require that public institutions of higher education in the State provide, for each student en- rolled at the institution who receives for the max- imum Federal Pell Grant award under subpart 1 of part A of title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965 (20 U.S.C. 1070a et seq.), institutional stu- dent financial aid in an amount equal to 100 percent of the difference between—

(A) the cost of attendance at such institu- tion (as determined in accordance with section 472 of the Higher Education Act of 1965 (20 U.S.C. 1087ll)), and
(B) the sum of the amount of the maximum Federal Pell Grant award; and
(ii) the student’s expected family con- tribution; and
(8) ensure that public institutions of higher education in the State not adopt policies to reduce enrollment.

Nowhere are the tradeoffs -- which are many and I have highlighted just a few of them -- addressed.

Here's another one. Administrative cost in universities keep increasing -- and not just to pay for presidents salaries. Think of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Title IX and whole host of mostly FEDERAL regulations that impose significant administrative costs on Universities and colleges. Sanders proposal doesn't allow states to use federal money to meet any such costs. Will his proposals make administrative costs go up? Not clear. But I'd be surprised if not.

One way that public universities have tried to control cost is by the use of part-time and adjunct faculty. Sanders proposal requires that at least 75% of teaching faculty at state universities be tenure and tenure track. Currently about 41% of faculty at all American Universities combined are adjuncts (i.e. not tenure or tenure track.) So this would be a major and costly sea change. And by the way, those adjuncts are much more likely to teach at underfunded state universities. Perhaps for the best, that's not what I am saying. But it's an increased cost. How will that cost be paid? By putting downward pressure on regular faculty wages, perhaps? Again, that's IS one of things that happens in Europe. European academic salaries are SIGNIFICANTLY lower, on average than American Academic Salaries.

All in all, not really sure what to make of this bill. It seems like a sort of half-baked, half thought-out proposal to remake the American Higher educational landscape in the image of Europe. It's kind of what you'd expect from a Social Democrat of European vintage though. The dude has a serious case of Europe envy, I'd say.

Bernie's African American Endorsers

Don't like Obama much.

Harry Belafonte on Obama:

uring the Television Critics Association Press Tour, where he was promoting his upcoming HBO documentary "Sing Your Song," Belafonte told reporters, "Barack Obama and his mission has failed because it has lacked a certain kind of moral courage, a certain kind of moral vision that we are in need of." According to the Wall Street Journal, he later added, "There is still a lot of opportunity for that corner to be turned."

"When he said, 'Yes, we can,' it may have been politically clever," Belafonte continued. "He never defined for us what he said ... So those of us who felt that we needed change filled in that space with our own images of what we thought he meant only to find out we are all disappointed because none of those things have been satisfied."

Cornell West on Obama

"A niggerized black person is a black person who is afraid and scared and intimidated when it comes to putting a spotlight on white supremacy and fighting against white supremacy," West explained. "So when many of us said we have to fight against racism, what were we told? 'No, he can't deal with racism because he has other issues, political calculations. He's the president of all America, not just black America.' We know he's president of all America but white supremacy is American as cherry pie."

"The First Black President Has Become The First Niggerized Black President"

Ta-Nehisi Coates on Obama

The irony of President Barack Obama is best captured in his comments on the death of Trayvon Martin, and the ensuing fray. Obama has pitched his presidency as a monument to moderation. He peppers his speeches with nods to ideas originally held by conservatives. He routinely cites Ronald Reagan. He effusively praises the enduring wisdom of the American people, and believes that the height of insight lies in the town square. Despite his sloganeering for change and progress, Obama is a conservative revolutionary, and nowhere is his conservative character revealed more than in the very sphere where he holds singular gravity—race.

Fear of a Black President

Now I doubt the predominant view of Obama in the African American community is the Belafonte-Coates-West view. And I think that fact will be used adeptly by Clinton and her many black surrogates to draw a wedge between Bernie and the black community.

"So Bernie, do you agree with your supporter, Cornell West, that Obama is .... I can't even say the word ... but do you know what he said. he used the n'word to describe Obama. Did you call him out on that? Will you? Why have you accepted his endorsement?"

and on and on

Sanders is attempting a nothing less than a hostile takeover of Democratic Party

The Socialist Democrats. USA would be Sanders natural home, but they don't run presidential candidates anymore.

So Sanders, despite hating on the democrats for years, as just one of the two parties of the ruling class

(see: http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/02/sanderss-party-problem/460293/)

decides to run for president as a democrat.


Well, it's clear, the Democratic Party has a lot of intact national political infrastructure. If you could seize that infrastructure, and turn it into a militantly leftist party, you'd have your socialist party.

It's a long shot, to be sure, but that's clearly what Sanders is up to. He's trying take the Democratic Party and remake it in his own socialist image. Pretty daring move. He's gotten farther than you might have thought he would at first. But it's pretty clear that the powers that be within the democratic party don't want to see the party become an outright socialist party. Otherwise, they would have become that long ago. I bet they believe such a party is not likely to be a majority party anytime soon.

Can Sanders Run Against Clinton without Running against Obama?

Sanders has kept his criticisms of the Obama administration pretty muted for the most part. But to the extent that he starts critiquing Clinton's proposals and policies, many which of which revise and extend, but don't erase, Obama's approaches, doesn't he basically need to argue that Obama got it wrong or that it's time to supersede those approaches entirely?

Hilary is running to be the steward and guardian of recent Democratic gains, who will move them forward incrementally. Sanders is running to be a transcendent figure, who starts a revolution, wipes the slate clean, and allows the party to just route the plutocratic opposition.

That seems a pretty hard sell over the long term in the democratic primaries. In the early states like Iowa and New Hampshire, where idealism and infatuation play a larger roll and just a pretty arrow slice of the democratic coalition is involved, and where realism almost never plays a role, he can get away with this maybe.

But it seems kind of a strange long term strategy in the end.

I think Sanders is really running to remake the entire democratic party from bottom up in his own image. Very seriously doubt he can pull that off. He wants the party to really and truly become a party modeled after the democratic socialist parties of Europe or at least the social democrats of Europe.

What Obama's Debate Strategy Will (and should) Be.

Here's a prediction about what Obama will try to accomplish in the debate on Wednesday. On the defensive side, he will try to more clearly outline his policy vision for a second term and will almost certainly have to ward off what is likely to be a steady stream of attacks on his economic stewardship from Romney.

But I also predict that he will (and believe that he should) be very much on offense. He won't go on offense in a slashing, mean spirited sort of way. But he will and should return again and again to a single theme throughout. His theme will and should be that voters cannot and should not trust Romney with the presidency.

The grounds for distrusting Romney is not that he is temperamentally unsuited to be president. Indeed, I'm sure that although Romney will be aggressive, he will be calm and focused and will have the aura of a potential president. Instead, Obama's attack will focus at every turn on whether Romney can actually be trusted to fight for the non-wealthy -- the middle class, the working class, and the nearly forgotten poor. He will and should roll all the disparate attacks they have mounted against Romney -- the attacks on the Bain capital approach to capitalism, the attacks on Romney's secretive offshore accounts, on his unwillingness to come clean about either his own taxes or his scheme to cut taxes, on his tasteless dissing of the 47% to his cabal of wealthy donors, on his plans to voucherize medicare and even, I think, on Romney's plans to repeal Obama care -- into a single overriding question. The million dollar question for voters? Can you really trust this out of touch plutocrat to wake up every day in the Oval Office with your best interests foremost in his mind? Can you trust him to give his all to protecting and defending the interests of the non-wealthy?

I hope that he will provide us at some point with a riff that can be repeated into a meme on a par with Reagan's famous "Are you better off...? If such a riff takes on the status of a meme it would succinctly crystallize the choice as Obama would frame it.

Romney will have to have some sort of comeback. Not sure what it could or will be. "I really do care about the 100%. I was just kowtowing shamelessly to my rich donors when I dissed the 47%." "A rising tide lifts all boats -- even the freeloaders." But I do suspect that if Obama frames the question about Romney in this way (thereby turning the closing days partly into a referendum on Romney) then unless Romney does have an effective comeback, he's toast.
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