Gary Shapiro: College admissions scandal highlights fundamental flaws in higher education

The wealthy parents who paid for fake test scores or bribed coaches to get their kids into elite schools don’t seem to understand American principles.

Our Constitution, democracy and culture are based on individual liberty, competition and rewards for those who fairly achieve and succeed. The wealthy parents who paid for fake test scores or bribed coaches to get their kids into elite schools don’t seem to understand that concept.

The silver lining of the 2019 college admissions scandal is it shed a bright light on how we subsidize higher education. College is the measurable exit ramp from poverty to realizing the American Dream. And so our federal funding, including subsidized loans and approach to education should be fair, transparent and strategic. The average four-year college graduate makes 65 percent more annually than someone with a high school degree.

If education is society’s escape valve from poverty, then access to it should be our priority.

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Some politicians and academics advocate for universal free college education and erasing student debt, but these are irresponsible, politically motivated giveaways. They would penalize those who worked to pay for school and balloon our federal debt. Our cupboard is bare, as spending on existing entitlements and interest will soon squeeze all federal discretionary spending, including the amount we spend on education today.

We have to start spending smarter.

The college admissions scandal has highlighted an educational system favoring the wealthy and falling short in raising up the poor.

One idea is to tie federal money going to education to better behavior by colleges and universities. Admissions officers should weigh more heavily the potential, moxie, obstacles overcome and the socioeconomic status of student applicants. They should move away from admitting applicants based mostly on their parents’ alumni status or donations.

Here are four ways we can ensure our federal investment in education creates a fairer country, a stronger economy and more skilled workforce:

Every college receiving federal funds must have transparent admission policies and reserve a big portion of incoming slots for students who come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Likewise, a sizable portion of athletic and academic scholarships should go to students from lower socioeconomic families. Legacy slots should be reduced or eliminated.

Student loans should have interest rates correlating with the need in the workforce for the resulting degree, with lower interest rates for in-demand degrees. This would discourage students from entering careers for which there are few jobs.

Colleges should guarantee a portion of loan repayments to the federal government. This free market approach would discourage worthless degrees, cut student loan losses and free up money for more strategic educational investments.

Community college and technical training programs should be equilibrated with university degrees — both in funding and cultural value. As a nation that needs more skills-based learning, we must value other educational pathways equally.

The business community must stand up, too, and provide the training necessary for tomorrow’s jobs. Technology is rapidly changing job demands, causing a huge skills shortage in this country and causing concerns about technology replacing drivers and other workers. Students just out of high school or those exiting the military must be able to join a company and learn new-collar skills while also getting paid — and be almost guaranteed a well-paying job in a relatively short period of time.

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The White House initiative championed by Ivanka Trump to train, hire or reskill existing workers for the new technology-centric workforce is critical. Many companies in the technology industry have committed to hire, train or reskill some two million Americans in the next five years.

The college admissions scandal has highlighted an educational system favoring the wealthy and falling short in raising up the poor. Our nation and our economy now need workers with different skills — and if we don’t transform and innovate, our nation and our children will fall behind.

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