“While college campuses are chock full of particularly mind-numbing misunderstandings of the First Amendment—from students and administration alike—the example that takes the cake this year comes from Yale Law School, where student activists disrupted a Federalist Society event discussing civil liberties.
As Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) attorney Zach Greenberg wrote, “Protesters banged on walls, stomped on the ground, chanted ‘Fuck you FedSoc,’ and screamed at the panelists…. The cacophony persisted for the majority of the event, and though panelists struggled to project their voices over the noise, the audience remained largely unable to hear them.”
The activists’ actions comprised a “heckler’s veto”—a form of unprotected speech where the heckler prevents someone from exercising their free speech rights by physically preventing them from being heard. However, the activists didn’t seem to care. When students were told their actions violated Yale’s free expression policies, a chorus of students insisted that “This is free speech.””
“In four years, the number of students graduating from high schools across the country will begin a sudden and precipitous decline, due to a rolling demographic aftershock of the Great Recession. Traumatized by uncertainty and unemployment, people decided to stop having kids during that period. But even as we climbed out of the recession, the birth rate kept dropping, and we are now starting to see the consequences on campuses everywhere. Classes will shrink, year after year, for most of the next two decades. People in the higher education industry call it “the enrollment cliff.”
Among the small number of elite colleges and research universities — think the Princetons and the Penn States — the cliff will be no big deal. These institutions have their pick of applicants and can easily keep classes full.
For everyone else, the consequences could be dire.”
“Right now, the majority of published scientific findings — and the vast majority of prestigious new research — is hidden behind paywalls. Most of the top scientific publications charge readers high fees for access, with prices that are rising faster than inflation. An annual membership with Nature costs $199, Science starts at $79 per year, and The Lancet charges $227. And these are only a few of the hundreds of journals where new research appears.
This money goes to publishers, not to the academics who actually write scientific papers.”
“in a bid to tear down the paywall and make science more accessible to all, the White House last month announced new guidelines requiring that all taxpayer-funded research, including data used for a study, be made public at no cost by the end of 2025.
The Biden plan is one of the biggest wins yet for the “open science” movement. In practice, it often refers to publishing the papers that describe new scientific findings immediately and without paywalls. It can also include publicly sharing full datasets and code used for analysis.”
“Freeing research largely paid for by taxpayer money can seem like a no-brainer, but over time, the potential downsides of open science efforts like the Plan S mandate have become more apparent. While pay-to-publish but free-to-read platforms bring more research to the public, they can add barriers for researchers and worsen some existing inequalities in academia. Scientific publishing will remain a for-profit industry and a highly lucrative one for publishers. Shifting the fees onto authors doesn’t change this.
Many of the newly founded open-access journals drop the fees entirely, but even if they’re not trying to make a profit, they still need to cover their operating costs. They fall back on ad revenue, individual donations or philanthropic grants, corporate sponsorship, and even crowdfunding.
But open-access platforms often lack the prestige of well-known top journals like Nature. Scientists early in their careers — as well as those at less wealthy universities in low-income countries — often rely on precarious, short-term grant funding to carry out their research. Their career depends on putting out an impressive publication record, which is already an uphill battle.
The established journals are reluctant to commit to open access, since submission fees may deter potential researchers from sending in their work. And if journals don’t charge submission fees or reader subscriptions, they’ll have to turn to other sources of income, which may be unsustainable in the long run.”
“colleges and universities will have even less incentive to lower costs. Economic researchers have often found that the government’s subsidized student loans cause educational institutions to jack up their prices for obvious reasons: If the feds cover the cost on the front end, no matter what it is, universities have every incentive to raise the sticker price. Forgiving student loan debt exacerbates this problem since it encourages more reckless borrowing. Indeed, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimates the cumulative student debt level will return to current levels in just a few years.
There are structural incentives that push students to borrow money that they can never hope to pay back, and the fact that so many people have fallen into crippling debt is a compelling reason to change these incentives. No rule says the federal government must lure people down a path that leads to financial ruin with some frequency. Congress can sharply limit, or even end, this practice.
A one-off cancelation of some level of debt held by borrowers who happen to be in dire straits at this specific moment does nothing to fix the underlying problems; on the contrary, it exacerbates them. It is a slap in the face to everyone who either paid down their college debt or made different educational choices to avoid accruing it.
If Biden wanted to make the strongest conceivable case for forgiving some college debt, this course of action needed to be paired with serious changes to the entire higher education system. Otherwise, he is simply engaged in a vast transfer of wealth, taking hard-earned money from those who did not fall prey to the federal government’s scam and awarding it to those who did.”
“President Joe Biden announced that the federal government would forgive between $10,000 and $20,000 of student loan debt for qualifying borrowers who make less than $125,000 per year. But that wasn’t all: Biden also said that he would create a new income-driven repayment (IDR) system for college borrowers.
The IDR aspect of Biden’s plan attracted less scrutiny than the direct forgiveness aspect, which will cost at least $300 billion (and probably much, much more) in the immediate future. But in the long-term, this aggressive move toward an income-driven model of repaying college loans will probably have a bigger impact—and that impact will be catastrophic. In fact, unless the government does something to constrain colleges’ ability to set their own prices, IDR could break the entire higher education financing system and lead to skyrocketing costs for taxpayers.
There are some IDR programs available right now, but Biden’s approach would vastly expand this option. The existing plans require borrowers to pay 10, 15, or 20 percent of their income for two decades, at which point the rest of the loan is forgiven. Biden would make IDR much more appealing than it is currently; according to the Biden-Harris debt relief plan, borrowers will pay just 5 percent of their income (or 10 percent if they took out graduate student loans) for either 10 or 20 years depending on how much money they owe. The income threshold will be raised from 150 percent above the poverty line to 225 percent, and punitive interest rates will be eliminated.
All in all, this IDR model will be extremely appealing for a large number of borrowers, and we should expect the percentage of borrowers who are repaying via IDR to increase substantially in the coming years. But without further changes to the federal student loan program, this is going to be a huge problem.
That’s because both the borrowers and the universities will have increased incentive to bilk the people who actually make the loan: the taxpayers.
Under the current system, a prospective student needs a certain amount of money to pay for tuition at a university—say, $50,000—and borrows that sum from the government (i.e., the taxpayers). Later, the borrower pays it back, with interest. The university’s incentives are less than ideal; it might feel free to raise the price of tuition to $60,000, satisfied that the student really wants the degree, and will thus borrow more money, and deal with the consequences afterward. To the extent that the government loan program disguises upfront costs, it arguably contributes to rising tuition rates.
Under IDR, this situation gets much worse because the university and the borrowers have incentive to cooperate and screw the taxpayers. For the borrower, it doesn’t matter if tuition costs $50,000 or $5 million: The borrower will be repaying the same amount, 5 percent of income for 10 years, regardless of the size of the loan or the cost of tuition. Since it makes no difference to the borrower, the university might as well raise prices. This way, the university pockets more money, and the borrower doesn’t even have to pay it back.
Something close to this scheme already exists in law schools, which have Loan Repayment Assistance Programs (LRAPS). According to leftist writer Matt Bruenig, the arrangement is very likely to produce increased tuition as universities and students figure out that they can essentially cooperate in this game to beat the house”
“Bruenig notes that Australia also uses IDR, but in Australia, the government prohibits universities from charging obscenely high tuition rates.
“If we are going to make the leap into an IDR-dominant college financing system, then we may need the government to also play a much bigger role in setting college prices, something it probably should have been doing even before the Biden policy change,” writes Bruenig. “Otherwise, we may very well see more unwanted cost bloat beyond what we already have.””
“One solution would be for the government, at a minimum, to set tuition prices for public, state universities—which, after all, are public and paid for by taxpayers. If the state is going to confiscate wealth from taxpayers in order to maintain public educational institutions, those institutions should be generally affordable to those same taxpayers.
Another idea would be to move to a system in which students don’t take out loans at all; instead of paying tuition, they agree to pay a percentage of their income to the university for some length of time after graduation. This would be like IDR, but it would cut out the government as the middleman, and thus get taxpayers off the hook. Purdue University President Mitch Daniels experimented with such a system, though it was paused earlier this year due to implementation difficulties.
By encouraging students to take on even more debt, and then never expecting them to repay it, the Biden administration is creating a system where everyone involved in higher education has incentive to fleece the American people.”
“President Joe Biden made millions of Americans up to $20,000 richer by excusing them from repayment of money they had borrowed, costing taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars.
The recipients aren’t the poorest Americans, the neediest, the unluckiest, the most indebted or those serving our nation most nobly. They qualify, rather, because they borrowed money for college.”
“many of those receiving relief borrowed to finance graduate degrees like JDs and MBAs — a group hardly in need of financial help, but one that will remember this giveaway come November. But from afar, this choice looks absurd. As of June, American households held more than $4.5 trillion in consumer debt (excluding home mortgages), most of which was not student loans. According to the Federal Reserve, fewer than 1 in 4 households have student-loan debt, and it is more common among those with higher incomes. By what logic is “borrowed money for college” a sensible standard for selecting the recipients of unprecedented public beneficence?
The logic is uniquely American, and incredibly harmful. It is captured well in the familiar Hollywood trope of a teenager, discovering his family’s financial troubles, conceding gloomily that he can abandon his first-choice school and attend the state university nearby, only for a determined parent to insist: No, we will find a way.
In America, this is meant to be inspiring. But the statistics suggest it’s more likely to be a tragic mistake.”
“Students who enroll in college are more likely to drop out or graduate into jobs that don’t require their degrees than they are to travel the expected college-to-career path. Research also suggests that what school you attend just doesn’t matter all that much: For men, school selectivity has no effect on future earnings; for women, more selective schools lead to more hours worked and lower marriage rates.”
“On average, colleges in America consume more than $25,000 per student per year — second only to Luxembourg among developed economies and more than twice the spending in countries like Denmark, France and Germany. The focus on elite private colleges is especially harmful: While we constantly conflate the cost of the “college experience” with affording an “Ivy League education,” median tuition for an in-state, four-year public university is still only $8,300 per year. Every child in America can pay his or her own way at a perfectly good college for about half the income from a part-time, minimum-wage job.”
“America should embrace the banality of the student loan as just one form of debt among many — chosen by some for purposes of investment, and by others for what amounts to conspicuous consumption, exploited by sellers of a product with variable quality. As luck would have it, America has a very good legal system for governing regular debt, complete with structures for managing risk on all sides, options for sellers to provide credit themselves if no one else will, and equitable relief for those who make commitments they cannot keep.
The keystone is our uniquely lenient bankruptcy system. Unlike in most other countries, the typical American can go to court, declare himself insolvent, hand over some remaining assets, default on his remaining debts and return home to a house exempted from the proceedings. This choice is by no means an easy one — his credit score plummets and borrowing becomes more difficult and costly; friends and neighbors are likely to notice, along with anyone who runs a background check in the future; feelings of failure and accompanying shame are common. Thus, while Americans file for bankruptcy far more frequently than Europeans, the occurrence is sufficiently rare that consumer credit remains widely available and affordable. The cost of bankruptcy is low enough to encourage risk taking and ensure that someone who truly needs a fresh start can get one, but high enough that most who can avoid it will do what they can to steer clear.
This is the option that should be available to all student-loan holders.
Continuing the desacralization of student debt, we should eliminate the labyrinth of government grants, loans, subsidies and guarantees that assert an open-ended public commitment to financing anything a university can think to charge for. Public support should come at the state level through funding of state university systems and at the federal level through a simple, means-tested grant that covers, say, 50 percent of the median state’s four-year public university tuition. Tying the grant value to the median state would prevent individual schools from extracting more money by raising tuition. Costs of room and board would be excluded. Young adults not enrolled in college do not expect the public to pay for their housing or food; neither should those enrolled.”
“Where would students find additional funding for more expensive options? A private loan market would likely exist but, absent the guarantees and subsidies, credit would be scarce and expensive. Borrowers would tend to have limited credit history and few assets. Lenders would be poorly positioned to evaluate the likelihood of successful repayment. The prospect of discharge in bankruptcy would add further risk. These obstacles are features, not bugs. Loaning large amounts of money to teenagers with uncertain prospects and no collateral is a bad idea for lenders because it is a bad idea, period. Finding ways to make it sufficiently attractive to saddle those teenagers with the loans does no one (besides college administrators) any favors.
Fortunately, institutions exist with the capital to finance all the necessary borrowing, the information to assess the wisdom of borrowing to enroll, the resources to help students succeed and the incentives to make the system work. Those institutions, of course, are the colleges themselves. Just as sellers provide financing for cars, capital goods and sometimes real estate, colleges should be expected to finance the education they provide. Instead of cashing tuition checks before freshman orientation has begun, and leaving the student to someday pay back a third-party lender, colleges should receive tuition from their students after the fact, when those students have been launched into careers that allow them to afford the payments.
This shift would initially require institutions without large endowments to borrow working capital for providing today an education that would be paid for tomorrow. But most institutions will have sufficient fixed assets to secure the loans, and the federal government could play a role if needed in guaranteeing that financing — with default leading promptly to liquidation.
Meanwhile, students who made the choice to borrow under the old system would continue to repay those debts if they can, and would have the option to declare bankruptcy if they cannot. Such bankruptcies would cost the federal government much less than Biden’s broad-based loan forgiveness, and would help the transition to a better system and mindset rather than Biden’s doubling down on the broken one.
Colleges dependent on their own alumni’s future earnings to fund their operations would face a radically different set of incentives than today’s.”
“The overwhelming majority — 92 percent — of the $1.7 trillion of outstanding student loan debt is made up of federal loans. The federal government continues to lend upwards of $100 billion each year to students from all income levels. In fact, more than 50 percent of federal loans outstanding have been made in the last decade. In addition to the 43 million Americans paying their own federal student loans, 3.6 million parents owe $103.6 billion in federal Parent PLUS loans. Roughly half of federal loans are made not for access to undergraduate programs but to pursue graduate programs. These graduate school borrowers are often top earners in the economy after they complete their degree.
Many federal borrowers benefitted greatly from their undergraduate or graduate education and are managing their obligations well and without undue burden. There is a group that is struggling, however, and they are too often first-generation college students or those from historically marginalized communities. A study from the bipartisan Brookings Institution found Black graduates hold an average of $53,000 in student loan debt four years after graduation — almost twice as much as their white peers. In addition, Black families hold 19 percent of the federal loans made directly to parents, despite Black students making up just 12 percent of college students.
Put simply, the current system does too much for too many and not enough for those who truly need public support to access and complete college. And without a focus on the front-end of the federal loan program, another generation of students and their families could very well be in the same situation, and we’ll likely be having the same difficult discussions 10 or 15 years from now.
There are a number of pragmatic steps that can break this cycle of federal student loan debt while protecting access to higher education for all:”
“China has long been the number one feeder of international students to the U.S.; for the 2020–21 school year, more than 317,000 Chinese students were enrolled at American higher ed institutions. Hong Kong sends about 6,800 students overseas to
American universities each year. Thus, McLaughlin says, the question arose at the start of the pandemic when foreign nationals were temporarily expelled from the U.S.: “Is it safe for them to learn?”
American professors started “try[ing] to find the safest way to teach without censoring themselves,” McLaughlin says. They have taken certain discussion off of certain platforms; started using blind grading and allowing students to not submit papers under their own names; changed some conversations to be one-on-one instead of group discussions where another student could possibly record or disseminate the comments of a student living under Beijing’s thumb. Some professors, like Rory Truex at Princeton, issued warnings in their syllabuses, saying in essence that if a student was currently residing in China, they should wait to take a given class until they’re back on American soil.
Academics elsewhere have stooped to disturbing self-censorship to stave off Chinese Communist Party (CCP) censors. A teaching assistant at the University of Toronto declared he’d been told not to talk about certain issues online because it could put some students at risk; a guest lecturer-journalist from the Hong Kong Free Press declined an already-agreed-to speaking opportunity at the University of Leeds because he had been instructed by hosts to avoid focusing on the Hong Kong protests out of concern for the safety of Chinese students attending the lecture remotely.”
“Professors in Hong Kong, and international students from Hong Kong who study in the U.S. (not to mention their mainland Chinese counterparts), already had to worry about what might happen if a student takes a phone out and films comments made during classes. With the widespread adoption of remote learning, that’s gotten exponentially worse, says McLaughlin. “Whether it’s the intent or not, the effect of forcing everything online makes it a lot easier to hunt down, censor, and punish speech that’s critical of the government.””
“Harvard University has decided to extend its pandemic policy of making SAT and ACT scores optional for applicants until at least 2026, which means standardized test scores won’t play much of a role in admissions decisions for years to come, if ever again at all.
Harvard cited the pandemic as the reason for the extension, but the broader push to abolish the ACT and SAT in college admissions is grounded in a misguided idea that the tests are unfair to underprivileged teenagers. The University of California system, for instance, has moved to stop requiring the exams due to concerns that they disfavored black and Hispanic applicants.”
“As Freddie de Boer, author of The Cult of Smart, has argued very persuasively, some combination of grade point average and SAT/ACT scores is highly predictive of success in college. And it’s simply not true that prioritizing test scores punishes racial minorities more than alternative admissions standards. On the contrary, the more that schools rely on non-academic criteria such as extracurricular activities and legacy status, the more they reward applicants who are wealthy and well-connected. A gifted but impoverished Latino teen who is the first in his family to finish high school has a better shot in a system that cares about his SAT score than in a system that cares if his parents paid for clarinet lessons and secured him a spot on the water polo team.”
“If institutions like Harvard really cared about being fair to the unprivileged, they’d take a machete to legacy admissions: a special boost to applicants who are the scions of previous graduates.”
“The most prestigious educational institution in the country should take the brightest students, and standardized tests are a better metric for that than the alternatives on offer.”