Friday, January 27, 2012

College Aid Overhaul Must Start With Bankruptcy Law

No one likes overpaying for a product of questionable value.  College costs are now so exorbitantly high that elected leaders are calling for cost controls.  Great idea.  I know exactly where we can start.

Federal lawmakers should amend bankruptcy laws to allow student loans to be discharged in a personal bankruptcy.  Right now they sentence college graduates to decades of indentured servitude because they're not dischargeable.  This key reform will of course drastically reduce the amount of student loans that banks will write.  That will be good news.  Too many students attend college who really shouldn't go, so removing this financial enabler of future failure will free them to focus on more suitable career paths.  Not everyone should be a surgeon, but society always needs good bricklayers and mechanics.  Demand destruction happens in other commodified sectors and is now long overdue for higher education.

The federal plan mentioned in that article has details reminiscent of 1970s wage-price controls but at least it gets the topic on the table.  An effective plan would not focus federal aid on arbitrary metrics like numbers of college enrollees who graduate.  It should focus aid on academic subjects that will renew America's R&D edge.  That means aid for science and engineering students only, and even then priority will go to universities with productive laboratories.  Humanities students should get nothing, regardless of need.  Our great nation is ill-served with an excess of English majors, multicultural organizational social dynamics consultants, and underwater basket weavers.