Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Strange Death (?) of the American Graduation Initiative
A few days ago, The New Republic performed an unpleasant but important bit of public service, telling the story of how President Obama's proposed American Graduation Initiative, a plan to assist five million more individuals toward a community college degree by 2020, was a collateral casualty of last month's successful fight for health care reform. As the consequence of some fairly involved budget calculations that resulted from the reconciliation of the health care bill with (very positive) higher education lending reforms, the $12 billion proposed for AGI was cut to $2 billion in U.S. Department of Labor funding for community colleges.

The whole piece is worthwhile reading just as a reminder of how ugly and illogical the sausage-making of public policy can get, but its real value lies in the message that we court no greater risk to shared long-term prosperity than neglecting our stock of human capital. The stunningly divergent outcomes of more and less educated Americans in the now-concluding Great Recession illustrates the individual economic consequences for educational attainment; in the longer term, the question is how we can stay at the forefront of economic innovation with a national workforce comparatively less well educated than that of competitors.

There's also a great deal of time and money wasted in post-secondary educational endeavor. As the TNR article notes, upwards of 30 million adult Americans report educational attainment of "some college, no degree"--meaning that they started, but didn't finish. Leaving college without a credential but with a shitload of debt is a singularly lousy way to start adult life, but far too many Americans find themselves on that hard road.

I would guess that the administration finds its way back to this issue, perhaps in the context of Obama's 2012 reelection campaign. But with stronger Republican caucuses in Congress, perhaps an outright majority in the House, it won't be easy. Crucial as it was for the president and the Democrats to win the health care fight, it came a price both very high and not much appreciated, even among those who should know.

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