Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Not sure which bothers me more 

I love reading Jay Matthews' columns on higher ed in the Washington Post, and today's has a couple of intriguing and annoying comments. The issue is how students and their parents file financial aid forms for getting help paying for colleges. There are two forms one fills out: FAFSA, a federal common form which pretty much every university will require, and PROFILE, which is a form that asks more detailed questions about family income and assets and offered by The College Board for a fee of $18 per college application. There are exceptions made to waive the fee for low-income students, but some feel it isn't sufficient. According to Matthews,
Some counselors have an even more radical suggestion, one that might not please either Poch or Brooks [the principals in the debate], who both like the information provided by the PROFILE form. Why don't colleges just drop the PROFILE and make do with the FAFSA, saving a lot of trouble?
The reason, of course, is price discrimination. The information needed to do it for private schools is more than public universities would require, so it doesn't appear on FAFSA. The Justice Dept. has already taken a dim view of this, and doing away with PROFILE would be another step in that direction. The problem is that price discrimination, while transferring money from families to universities, should lead to a great provision of higher education. As a matter of efficiency price discrimination should not be discouraged; the issue of equity remains, of course. If we cannot ascertain who has enough house equity, for example, to finance college for their children by taking a second mortgage, we are likely to reduce the number of students going to college. PROFILE more likely reduces the amount of (over-)subsidization of middle-class students to the benefit of lower-income students.

The another annoying quote comes from Bruce Poch, the admissions dean at Pomona College. In an email reported by Matthews about Poch's request that the College Board advertise the true costs of education -- which are overestimated by many students -- Poch says,
I likely rubbed salt in the wound by stating that while traveling in the country, I read the many obituaries of those young soldiers killed in Iraq in local papers and there was an enormous frequency of comment that they had enlisted to get educational opportunity and GI Bill support. I felt we had built our military policy on the backs of kids who thought the military was the only way they could afford college.
You can see where that goes. If he can convince students that university is less costly than they think, they won't volunteer for the armed services, and "military policy" won't take advantage of their ignorance. Do telemarketers build their business models on the backs of kids who think cold-calling isn't hard? Does someone take advantage of those who respond to ads for getting a real estate license by suggesting the rewards "can be" great? Dean Poch, whose campus is pretty liberal, is projecting his opposition to the war.