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November 12, 2015

BABY BOOMERS AND THE END OF HIGHER EDUCATION:

Fifty years ago this week, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Higher Education Act, ushering in an era of massive federal support for college students through a flurry of new programs: tuition grants, guaranteed student loans, and work-study funds. The law allowed a much greater swath of Americans to earn a college degree regardless of their family income. During the following decades, enrollment at campuses across the country grew threefold, to some 20 million students.

But today, Johnson’s vision of the Higher Education Act as a great equalizer in the American economy is at risk. Indeed, the divide between the haves and have-nots in higher education is almost as great today as it was in the mid-1960s. In the past decade alone, the percentage of students from families at the highest income levels who received a bachelor’s degree has grown to 82 percent, while for those at the bottom it has fallen to just 8 percent.

Viewed that way, the flood of money into higher ed has been a bust. But if you think of federal aid to higher education as a transfer of money from taxpayers to a Democrat-supporting industry, then it hasn’t been a failure at all.