After this wicked week on Wall Street, candidates for Congress, the statehouse and the White House are bound to say a lot about the economy from now until Nov. 4. Here’s some advice for them: Make sure those comments include ideas for making college more affordable.
Worry about how to pay for college is swelling in countless American families, as stock market investments sour and home equities sink. That should be reason enough for candidates to take up the topic in earnest.
But there’s more: The nation’s competitive posture in the global economy depends on increasing the share of its workforce that has attained both two-year and four-year degrees. A soon-to-be released study by the think tank Growth & Justice will recommend that Minnesota increase by 50 percent the number of college grads it produces by 2020, to maintain its competitive edge among the states.
Making college more affordable isn’t all that’s needed to give Minnesota and the nation a college degree surge. It will also take better academic preparation, pre-K through grade 12, and changing attitudes in the subcultures that do not encourage their children to get as much education as they can.
Scaling the cost barrier to college is a very necessary if not sufficient step. And with states like Minnesota likely confronting big deficits next year, government is going to have to make that step in the most cost-effective way possible.
That means concentrating state and federal efforts on putting more financial help directly into the hands of students. In Minnesota, it means shoring up the 25-year-old State Grant Program. The brainchild of the late professor/legislator John Brandl, the grant program discounts the price of college for about 80,000 lower-income students — about one in four of every Minnesota public and private college undergraduates, at both two- and four-year institutions.
When it was new, the State Grant Program was often hailed as a national leader. Today, it doesn’t...