- Published Date
- Written by Linda Chavez
International Women's Day, celebrated this week for the 106th year, marks continued progress for women across the world, but that progress has been reversed in countries where Islamic fundamentalism has taken hold. And nowhere is women's freedom more under official assault than in Iran.
Prior to the Islamic Revolution in 1979, women in Iran had significant personal freedom and protection under the law. One of the first changes the Ayatollah Khomeini made after taking power was to revoke the 1967 Family Protection Law, which governed marriage, divorce and family custody.
Today, women have less than second-class status in Iran. Their husbands may divorce them at will and take as many as four concurrent wives, and divorced women have no custody rights to their own children once the child reaches age 2. Women are denied the right to study what they choose and are forbidden from entering certain professions and from studying abroad unless accompanied by their husbands. Their testimony in court is devalued: Two women must testify to carry the same weight as one man.
The court system is an arm of fundamentalist Islam. Female victims of crime receive less justice than male victims. Punishment for harming or even killing a woman is less harsh than if the victim is a man. What we in the West might consider moral transgressions, such as adultery, incur the severest criminal penalties, including the stoning to death of female adulterers. Even minor transgressions, such as failing to wear the hijab, can result in beatings and imprisonment.
Last week in Paris, however, I joined a group of prominent women gathered to draw attention to the plight of women in Iran and under other Islamic extremist governments. The conference theme, "Women Leading the Fight Against Islamic Fundamentalism," drew speakers including former Canadian Prime Minister Kim Campbell, former president of the German Bundestag Rita Sussmuth, South African activist Nontombi Naomi Tutu, and Mariane Pearl, journalist and widow of reporter Daniel Pearl, whose videotaped execution by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed became a symbol of the barbarity of al-Qaida.
Maryam Rajavi, the conference organizer and president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, described the outrageous misogyny that the mullahs inflict on Iran: an acid attack against a woman and her daughter in the streets of Tehran, forced marriages for girls under 15, and new laws (unopposed by the so-called moderate Iranian President Hassan Rouhani) that allow men to marry their adopted daughters at age 13.
But Rajavi's message was not one of despair. "Iranian women and all women in the region must move from being hopeless to being hopeful. They have to move from simply being angry to becoming inspired to change and to bring about change."
It was the same message Tutu invoked. Recalling her famous father, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, she described a visit he made to Alaska during the apartheid era where he met a woman who told him that she woke every morning at3 o'clock to pray for the liberation of South Africa. "And he said, 'What chance does the apartheid regime have when we were being prayed for at 3 o'clock in the morning in Alaska?' ... What chance does the regime stand when there are young women inside Iran leading protests on college campuses. What chance does the regime stand when the opposition is lead by a woman named Mrs. Rajavi. No chance! No chance!"
Pearl spoke of resistance in personal terms. "The women that we talked about today are those ordinary women with a mighty heart -- and they can defeat terrorism," she said. "They also know that we have no choice but to win that fight."
Women make up more than half of the population of Iran. The mullahs may try to silence them, deprive them of their rights, even take away their children. But women will be the face of change in Iran. And it is time feminists in the West stood by their side in the fight against Islamic extremism.
- Published Date
- Written by Roger Clegg
But first, before turning to “My Brother’s Keeper”: Senator Harry Reid has filed cloture on President Obama’s nomination of Debo Adegbile to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, and set the full Senate’s vote on it for Tuesday.
I’m told that red-state Democrats are not happy about this vote, and rightly so, especially in light of Mr. Adegbile’s enthusiastic and politicized defense of convicted Philadelphia cop-killer Mumia Abu Jamal (among other radical credentials). I’ve written about the nomination here and here, and the Wall Street Journal ran an excellent op-ed last week opposing the nomination, by Republican Pennsylvania senator Pat Toomey and Democratic Philadelphia district attorney R. Seth Williams.
* * *
Last week the president announced his new "My Brother's Keeper" program. It will involve a combined effort of businesses, philanthropies, and government to improve the prospects of "at risk" young men of color. The White House, by the way, uses "of color" to include, in addition to blacks, Hispanics (who are not a nonracial group) and to exclude Asians (which are), but that's a story for another day.
Now, it’s a good thing that the president wants to address the problems facing these young men (and it would be an even better thing if program ends up addressing the key underlying problem, namely out-of-wedlock births). But the obvious question, which I raised when the program was first hinted at in the President’s State of the Union speech, is why its efforts should be limited to young men of certain racial and ethnic groups — indeed, why it should not also include young women.
It is almost always illegal for the government (and any private program that receives federal money) to discriminate on the basis of race and ethnicity. There is no “compelling” interest to do so here. It may be that a disproportionate number of blacks and Latinos are at-risk, but many are not, and many whites, Asians, and others are. This is just another kind of “profiling.”
Nor will it do to say that there are other programs available for those being excluded here, as one White House official is quoted as saying. This is just another separate-but-equal argument.
President Obama has caved in to pressure from the left — the Congressional Black Caucus and others — to do something he was generally unwilling to do up to now: Endorse a federal program that is overtly limited to those of a particular color. Too bad.
Constitutionality aside, it is divisive and unfair to have racially exclusive programs. And what kind of message is given to blacks and Latinos when they are told that their young men are so problematic that they have to be singled out for special help to ensure that they don’t screw up?
Consider: A Chronicle of Higher Education article last week was headlined "Minority Male Students Face Challenge to Achieve at Community Colleges," and it discussed various successes and failures in that eponymous arena. Particularly intriguing was this passage:
And instead of offering small, "boutique" programs for minority students that attract just a few dozen students, [one expert] said, colleges should extend programs like mandatory study-skills classes, learning communities, and tutoring to all students. Minority students will benefit disproportionately from such strategies, she said, but they won't feel embarrassed by participating or feel that they're being singled out as "at risk."
So, again: What kind of a message is being sent by President Obama and the federal government when one or two racial/ethnic groups are singled out for special treatment because they are so likely to screw up? Or should it be assumed instead that they are being singled out because The System is so stacked against them?
I'm not sure which message is worse. How difficult would it have been for the president to have designed the new program so that it was open to at-risk youth of all colors — the way even the Chronicle of Higher Education, for Pete's sake, apparently acknowledges makes more sense?
My thoughts on “My Brother’s Keeper” have been quoted in a number of places, including the Washington Post.
* * *
Finally, in case you missed it, here’s Linda Chavez’s appearance on the PBS NewsHour last week on the significance of Volkswagen auto workers in Tennessee rejecting UAW membership — and the declining importance of unions for today’s workers.
- Published Date
- Written by Linda Chavez
It should come as no surprise to anyone that the White House has chosen -- for the 13th time in a year -- to make changes to the Affordable Care Act delaying its full implementation. The law is a mess -- passed by Democrats, most of whom hadn't bothered to read the legislation, without a single Republican vote. Nonetheless, the latest changes announced this week should embarrass even the most sycophantic Obamacare enthusiast.
The act was sold on the promise that the estimated 40 million Americans who were without health insurance would finally be covered. The law forces employers with 50 or more workers to offer health care plans to all of their employees -- and insists that those plans make no exceptions based on pre-existing conditions and cover everything from birth control to substance abuse treatment.
But now, it turns out that many employers won't have to offer health care anytime soon, at least not to all of their employees. By White House fiat this week, small businesses -- those that employ 50 to 99 workers -- received a one-year reprieve, to January 2016, from offering coverage to their employees. About eight million American workers will be affected by this change. And this, of course, comes after the White House gave a similar one-year reprieve last July to companies employing 100 or more people. The White House now says those companies can satisfy the requirement to provide insurance so long as 70 percent of their employees have access to a plan by January 2015.
The president defended his administration's decision by claiming, "This was an example of, administratively, us making sure that we're smoothing out this transition, giving people the opportunities to get right with the law, but recognizing that there are going to be circumstances in which people are trying to do the right thing and it may take a little bit of time." Right.
But individuals -- who are required by law to buy insurance -- have been given no such leeway. Their deadline remains March 31 if they hope to avoid tax penalties for 2014.
So how many Americans who didn't have coverage before the law went into effect now have "affordable health care," as the act requires? Who knows? Certainly not anyone who's willing or able to provide reliable numbers.
The administration released numbers this week touting the 3.3 million Americans who have enrolled in the federal and state health care exchanges. But some percentage of these enrollees -- the administration doesn't seem interested in finding out the exact number -- are people who had insurance before and either lost their insurance because of the act or chose to switch plans to qualify for federal subsidies.
Has there ever been a sweeping federal law passed whose authors chose to remain so willfully ignorant of its consequences? But the Democrats who voted for the bill choose to stick their heads in the sand and hope voters won't notice. And they do so even though it requires ceding their legislative authority to an executive branch that seems to believe it has the power to rewrite the law as it chooses.
It's hard to know whether Democrats will pay for the abrogation of their duties at the polls in November. It's bad enough that partisan gerrymandering has left most -- a whopping 400 -- districts so uncompetitive that challengers from the opposing party stand little chance of winning. What's worse is that many voters don't know or don't care that only Congress, not the president, has the power to change a law.
Maybe Republicans will be successful in persuading voters that the president has misled the American people and that his minions in Congress should pay the consequences. But even if the GOP takes control of the Senate and expands its majority in the House, there is no chance of repealing the Affordable Care Act or even amending it in any significant way. President Obama will simply veto any bill Congress passes that changes his signature accomplishment. Barring a Supreme Court challenge that strikes down the law, we're stuck with Obamacare until 2017 at the earliest.
- Published Date
- Written by Roger Clegg
It’s been a busy year so far at the Center for Equal Opportunity, and it’s only February.
Earlier this month I spoke at Vermont Law School, and this week I’m traveling to Minnesota to speak to the law schools at St. Thomas University and William Mitchell College of Law. (Some Florida law schools, rather than Vermont and Minnesota, might have been a better choice for this month, but I’m not complaining.) Last month I spoke at the Greater McLean Republican Women’s Club in Northern Virginia.
The Center for Equal Opportunity was quoted in an AP story on desegregation and a number of stories on felon voting; I also appeared on a television show on the latter topic. And we presented a Federalist Society teleforum on the Obama administration’s ridiculous “disparate impact” approach to school discipline, which you can listen to here.
- Published Date
- Written by Roger Clegg
The Senate Judiciary Committee has voted 10-8 along party lines to send to the Senate floor the nomination of Debo Adegbile to head the Justice Department’s civil-rights division. As I noted earlier, the Obama administration certainly had its work cut out for it when it tried to find someone farther to the left than Thomas Perez to head the Justice Department’s civil-rights division, but it appears to have succeeded.
Among his other accomplishments, Mr. Adegbile went out of his way to play a role in defending cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal, an international cause célèbre on the left, prompting the Fraternal Order of Police to oppose his nomination, along with a number of other law-enforcement groups, including (in alphabetical order) the Major County Sheriffs’ Association, National Association of Police Organizations, National Narcotic Officers’ Associations’ Coalition, National Sheriffs’ Association, and New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association, as well as Philadelphia District Attorney R. Seth Williams (the murdered policeman was from Philadelphia; his widow has asked to testify against Mr. Adegbile, but that request has been rejected by the Committee).
As Carl Rowan Jr. — who is himself a former deputy U.S. marshal, FBI special agent, and chief of police — wrote: “He isn’t the first questionable nomination made by a president who, for one reason or another, seems drawn to those with radical backgrounds, but this one is an open slap in the face to everyone in law enforcement.” That’s especially important here, because the head of the civil rights division must work closely with state and local law enforcement, not only in joint efforts, but also in supervising their compliance with civil-rights laws.
The nomination is also something of a slap to the House of Representatives, which, on December 6, 2006, marked the 25th anniversary of Officer Faulkner’s murder by passing 368–31 House Resolution 1082, condemning the murder.
Investor’s Business Daily had a good editorial on this and Mr. Adegbile’s other left-wing causes here. He doesn’t like voter ID and other ballot-integrity measures, and was on the wrong side in any number of Supreme Court cases, including, most recently, Shelby County v. Holder (finding the preclearance coverage formula under the Voting Rights Act to be outdated), as well as the challenge to Obamacare, District of Columbia v. Heller (striking down the D.C. gun-control law on Second Amendment grounds), and Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC (where his arguments were unanimously rejected as the Court ruled that the Free Exercise Clause protects us against “significant burdens on religious practice,” as Mr. Adegbile himself put it).
Here’s hoping the full Senate does not approve this nomination.
* * *
The Wall Street Journal had an outstanding editorial last week, opposing the Voting Rights Act amendments that have recently been proposed with the ostensible purpose of overturning last year’s perfectly reasonable decision in Shelby County v. Holder. That decision invalidated the preclearance formula of the Act that required some states to get the federal government’s approval before making any changes in local laws related in any way to voting.
Here’s a brief summary of the editorial (also, I wrote my own piece about the bill earlier, here): The Journal notes that “the liberal goal is to give national politicians more power to play racial politics in a few unfavored states”; that the new bill’s scheme to keep some states in federal receivership “fails to take into account broader racial progress in all of those states”; and that the bill’s use of an “effects” test raises constitutional problems and is “an open door to political abuse that is a specialty of this Administration.” All true, as is the editorial’s conclusion: that the Voting Right Act’s current provisions “provide ample federal enforcement when local politicians limit minority rights,” and so the preclearance mechanism does not need to be resurrected.
Here’s an even briefer summary: This a bad bill.
* * *
The Littler law firm has a comprehensive and interesting report on what the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has been up to, and it’s not reassuring. Among its priorities are “systemic” investigations and lawsuits (which I suspect generally mean “disparate impact” claims) and figuring out some way, any way to make discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation illegal under existing federal employment law (though Congress has never passed any such legislation). Also discussed in the report are the agency’s numerous recent setbacks in the courts.
* * *
Finally, in a Federal Register notice recently, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are soliciting nominations for possible membership on the Advisory Committee on Breast Cancer in Young Women. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but the notice contained this interesting passage (my italics):
“The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will give close attention to equitable geographic distribution and to minority and female representation so long as the effectiveness of the Committee is not impaired. Appointments shall be made without discrimination on the basis of age, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, HIV status, disability, and cultural, religious, or socioeconomic status.”
I’m afraid the Obama administration’s mask slipped a bit on this one; it might as well have said, “We’ll do our best to include women and minorities, so long as they aren’t TOO unqualified.” And of course the commitment in the first sentence to make the selection with an eye on sex and color is immediately disavowed with the promise in the second sentence not to do so. Just another diverse day’s work.
It’s interesting that even in an administration supportive of politically correct preferences, and even in a context where selection with an eye on sex and ethnicity has more than the usual plausibility, it’s acknowledged that such preferential treatment is inevitably at odds with choosing the best qualified.
- Published Date
- Written by Linda Chavez
It's not often that a union election makes front-page news. But last week's stunning loss by the United Auto Workers at a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., is a seminal event in the history of the labor movement. Union membership has fallen consistently over the past 60 years, and the UAW loss suggests there's no way for labor to reverse the trend -- at least not in the private sector. But why?
The UAW blames Republican politicians and conservative groups --outside agitators, if you will. Sen. Bob Corker, a former Chattanooga mayor, weighed in on opposing unionization at the plant during the voting, claiming a vote against the union would enhance the chances that VW would give the plant the right to build SUVs, adding hundreds of jobs. But the bigger problem was that the union had little to offer prospective members. Workers get little in return for paying dues that equal two hours' pay monthly.
There was a time when the difference between a union job and a nonunion job paid off. Unions offered job protection, steady wage increases and, most importantly, generous benefits, including first-rate health insurance. Indeed, the reason most employees receive health insurance through their employers is that unions demanded the benefit in their collective bargaining agreements during World War II when the National War Labor Board imposed a freeze on wages. The new benefit -- which was tax-free -- was so popular with workers that even nonunion employers adopted it in order to attract employees.
But with the advent of Obamacare, even that union advantage has disappeared. Not only is health insurance now available to everyone (though not everyone wants to pay for it), but unions can't bargain for the kind of Cadillac policies they once could. Even with union carve-outs granted by the administration, most employers will balk at gold-plated policies when forced to pay Obamacare's 40-percent excise tax and can do so with impunity as long as the plans they offer meet the Obamacare minimum requirements.
Wage differences between union and nonunion jobs are significant in some industries, but they often come with a price. Markets determine wages, no matter how hard unions and governments try to interfere.
Unions can negotiate higher wages only if productivity also increases so that owners still make a profit worth the risk and investment it takes to stay in business. But union work rules often impede productivity. And even if productivity doesn't lag, competition from nonunion companies producing similar products or offering similar services at a lower cost may make union companies less profitable. If unionization pushes wages higher than the market will bear, those companies are forced to cut jobs or go out of business. A union card doesn't do you much good if your job disappears because of it.
No doubt all of these factors played a role in the decision by the majority of VW's workers to vote against the UAW. But politics also played a role, though not in the way the UAW alleges.
The UAW, like the rest of the labor movement, has spent increasing energy and resources on politics as its membership has shrunk. Unions now devote as much if not more time and money to electing Democrats than they do to organizing new members. Some 90 percent of union political contributions go to Democratic candidates, and union staff and "volunteers" are the backbone of campaigns to elect Democrats at all levels of government. Yet 40 percent of union households voted Republican in the last presidential election, despite unions' unprecedented efforts to turn out their vote for the Democrats.
Many of the Chattanooga VW workers, no doubt, felt a cultural rift between their values and those of the UAW. Unions have become little more than subsidiaries of the Democratic Party, promoting liberal policies with which many of their own members disagree. And union dues pay for bloated bureaucracies and entrenched union leadership not open to effective challenge.
No wonder fewer than seven in 100 private-sector workers choose to join a union.
The UAW and the rest of the labor movement can expect more disappointments like that in Chattanooga, and there's not a lot unions can do to change it.
- Published Date
- Written by Roger Clegg
There was mercifully little in last week’s State of the Union speech related to civil-rights issues. It was too bad that the president said, “And I’m reaching out to some of America’s leading foundations and corporations on a new initiative to help more young men of color facing especially tough odds stay on track and reach their full potential”; after all, why should efforts for those “facing especially tough odds” be limited to those of a particular color, or sex for that matter? The underlying problem facing, disproportionately, “young men of color” is that they are brought up by unmarried women, so it was also too bad that the president bragged about being raised by “a single mom.”
The president’s discussion of voting rights was misleading; but I was relieved it was so brief and tepid (note that he described the Supreme Court’s Shelby County decision as only having “weakened” the Voting Rights Act, rather than the Act being “gutted,” the Left’s verb of choice here). Worse was his demagogic harangue about equal pay for women, as if women were not already guaranteed equal pay for equal work by several federal laws; the bill he wants is more for the benefit of plaintiffs’ lawyers and social engineers, not women.
* * *
Speaking of voting rights: A very bad bill has been introduced in Congress. Ever since the Supreme Court handed down its quite sensible decision last summer in Shelby County v. Holder, striking down part of the Voting Rights Act, the Left has promised to introduce legislation in response to it. And even before it was introduced, the Center for Equal Opportunity obtained a copy of a “discussion draft” of the bill and began to publicize the problems with it.
First, there isn’t any legislation needed. The Shelby County decision was aimed at only one section of the Voting Rights Act – the preclearance provision, requiring some (mostly southern) jurisdictions to get permission in advance from the federal government before making any change related to voting – and the rest of the Act remains in full force, including other, potent enforcement provisions for every jurisdiction in the country.
And indeed, for better or worse, the Justice Department and civil-rights groups are now using those other provisions to try to advance their agendas, which amount to a war on voter-ID requirements and ensuring the continued racial gerrymandering and segregation of voting districts. There’s no evidence that the Left needs more weapons in its arsenal; all that’s different in the post–Shelby County world is that now its lawyers have to prove racial discrimination before they can get court relief, which is the way that every other civil-rights law works.
A second point: Much in the draft bill has nothing to do with Shelby County at all. Rather, the Court’s decision is being used as an excuse to enact the Left’s wish-list in voting policy. In particular, the Left wants to promote its plaintiffs’ lawyers to the status of the attorney general in making civil-rights enforcement decisions. All this is a standard demand for the civil-rights groups whenever they (deservedly) lose a case and (inevitably) run to Congress.
The Left’s agenda is, of course, a decidedly color-conscious one. Thus, the bill itself features racial classifications, and offers protections for “minority voters” that it withholds from “nonminority” voters, in the context of voter turnout. (And, with regard to voter turnout: It might have been a plausible indicator of racial disenfranchisement in 1964 Mississippi, but it is quite implausible to say that it is evidence of racially discriminatory voting practices and procedures today. It’s just an excuse to put more jurisdictions under coverage – and, in theory at least, creates a perverse incentive for minority voters not to vote.)
Key provisions of the bill attempt to reinstate the “preclearance” provision of the Voting Rights Act by amending another section of the Act so that it is triggered even when there has been no constitutional violation, as is now required by that section. This raises the same sort of constitutional issue that resulted in the Shelby County decision in the first place, since Congress would again be acting to limit state prerogatives even though it lacks a constitutional predicate for doing so.
More broadly, the new legislation is an attempt to ensure that the Voting Rights Act works principally as a “disparate impact” statute. This approach to civil-rights enforcement is favored by the Obama administration, as shown by its new school-discipline “guidance” this month. But that approach is not about stopping real discrimination; it’s about ensuring racial proportionality by eliminating legitimate standards and procedures.
One last, overarching point: The bill creates a huge incentive for litigation, because it becomes very important for the Left to tally up as many rulings against a jurisdiction as possible in order to trigger coverage. It doesn’t matter if the cases are trivial; indeed, the bill creates an incentive not only for vexatious lawsuits but for manufactured ones. Plus, the “triggers” are set so low that just about any jurisdiction is targetable. There will be a cottage industry of plaintiffs’ lawyers who go around the country and try to get every jurisdiction covered – not just the paltry few states that the old Section 5 covered.
- Published Date
- Written by Roger Clegg
“An Update on the Mess at Bowdoin” is the all-too-accurate title of this piece by KC Johnson at Minding the Campus. Professor Johnson summarizes the proceedings at an event this month, held by the Maine Heritage Policy Center and National Association of Scholars, that builds on NAS’s comprehensive study of political correctness at Bowdoin College; this month the focus was on what Bowdoin proudly calls its efforts to ensure that students there are taught to be proper “global citizens.” Speakers included Peter Wood, John Fonte, Michael Poliakoff, Susan Shell, and Herb London.
Here’s Peter Wood’s graceful essay on the conference. Center for Equal Opportunity board member Tom Klingenstein also attended; Tom, of course, was the prime mover behind the study in the first place, as you can read here.
* * *
Eric Holder gave a speech last week in which he called for the automatic restoration of voting rights for felons once their sentences have been served. A few thoughts on this.
Attorney General Holder conveniently ignores the reason for felon disenfranchisement, namely that if you aren’t willing to follow the law, then you can hardly claim a role in making the law for everyone else, which is what you do when you vote.
We have certain minimum, objective standards of responsibility, trustworthiness, and commitment to our laws that we require of people before they are entrusted with a role in the solemn enterprise of self-government. And so we don’t allow everyone to vote: not children, not noncitizens, not the mentally incompetent, and not people who have been convicted of committing serious crimes against their fellow citizens.
The right to vote can be restored, but it should be done carefully, on a case-by-case basis, once a person has shown that he or she has really turned over a new leaf. The high recidivism rates that Mr. Holder acknowledges in his speech just show why that new leaf cannot be presumed simply because someone has walked out of prison; he’ll probably be walking back in, alas.
A better approach to the re-integration that Mr. Holder wants is to wait some period of time, review the felon’s record and, if he has shown he is now a positive part of his community, then have a formal ceremony — rather like a naturalization ceremony — in which his rights are restored.
Mr. Holder ignores all this, and plays the race card, by suggesting that there is a racial agenda behind these laws, which is simply not true. Too bad.
* * *
Finally, the Washington Post reported last week that President Obama would “launch a significant new effort Thursday [February 13] to bolster the lives of young minority men.” That hasn’t happened yet, probably because of the weather rather than any second thoughts by the administration, but one can hope.
As I wrote when this proposal was alluded to in the State of the Union speech, why should a program be limited only to those of a certain color? There are disadvantaged young men (and women) of all racial and ethnic groups. This is bad policy, and unconstitutional.
- Published Date
- Written by Linda Chavez
The cost of higher education has been much on my mind lately, in part because my oldest granddaughter is one of the estimated 22 million students headed to college in the fall. When I was her age, I was able to pay my own freshman tuition from a part-time minimum-wage job in a department store in Denver while I lived at home. But Phoebe won't be as lucky. Chances are she will end up saddled with debt, even though she may receive some merit-based aid and will likely work to pay her tuition.
The cost of tuition has risen dramatically in the past 50 years. I paid about $250 per semester for tuition when I started school in 1966 as an in-state student at the University of Colorado. If I were registering today, my tuition would be roughly $5,300 a semester for a full-time class load. Even after adjusting for inflation, this represents a three-fold increase in tuition costs, at a time when a college degree is a prerequisite to middle-class status.
You would think, given this reality and the Obama administration's fixation on eliminating income inequality, that administration officials would be looking at ways to reduce higher education costs. But no -- at least not when it comes to allowing the for-profit sector to play a role.
College bureaucracies -- like education in general -- are bloated. But efforts to streamline or outsource functions have met with resistance in the administration. One of the latest stumbling blocks the administration is trying to put in place involves new rules for how schools dispense student aid.
In the past, most students received the remainder of their financial aid package, after tuition and fees were deducted, in the form of paper checks. But the issuing of such checks requires a bursar's office and extra administrative staff to oversee. What's more, the whole process is ripe for fraud.
Just as the Social Security Administration has moved away from mailing checks to recipients, so, too, have many colleges moved to dispensing aid into student bank accounts and issuing debit cards so they can access their funds. But the bureaucrats in charge of federal student aid now want to penalize schools and card issuers for making a profit on the service.
Schools who use the services of for-profit debit card companies save millions of dollars by not having to issue checks. These savings help hold down rising costs in higher education. But the Obama administration and its liberal allies in Congress are skeptical of the free market and worry that companies will actually make money by charging fees to students who use their services. Frankly, this skepticism grows out of ignorance of how a market economy works.
Companies are in business to make profits. It's what motivates them to invest resources and provide services. Unsurprisingly, companies that issue cards so students can access their financial aid charge modest fees for using the cards, just as most banks do for their own customers. But now the Department of Education wants to issue new rules that would make it more difficult and less profitable for companies to do business in this area. DoE will hold meetings for a newly established rule-making committee starting in mid-February on the use of debit cards.
No one wants to see students gouged by excess fees to access money they are entitled to. But neither is it in students' interests to see colleges have to disburse money in less secure, inefficient methods like paper checks in order to satisfy government bureaucrats who think profit is a dirty word. The important thing is to keep costs of higher education from rising and pricing deserving students out of the market. If a for-profit company can figure out a better way to disburse financial assistance and schools save money in the process, everyone is better off.
The Department of Education should spend its time trying to figure out ways to make higher education more affordable, not putting up roadblocks to reducing costs.