BROOKSIAN MATH

BROOKSIAN MATH… In his column today (sub. req.), David Brooks argues that increases in federal college aid have had no effect on college graduation rates, and that therefore Hillary Clinton and the DLC are foolish for proposing a big new college aid program.

Over the past three decades there has been a gigantic effort to increase the share of Americans who graduate from college. The federal government has spent roughly $750 billion on financial aid. Yet the percentage of Americans who graduate has barely budged. The number of Americans who drop out of college leaps from year to year.

If, like me, you read that column and had that familiar, infuriating feeling that Brooks is playing fast and loose with the numbers, you’re right. Kevin Carey over at The Quick and the Ed explains:

There are two basic challenges to increasing the percentage of people who earn college degrees: getting more students to go to college, and getting more students to graduate once they get there. Brooks mixes and muddles these issues throughout the column, but as it happens he’s got his facts wrong no matter how you look at it.

According to the U.S. Department of Education and the Census Bureau, the percent of high school graduates who immediately enrolled in college the fall after graduation increased from 49% in 1972 to 67% in 2004.

The percent of 25- to 29-year olds who completed at least some college increased from 36% to 57%.

The percent of 25- to 29-year olds who earned a bachelor’s degree increased from 19% to 29%.

All of those numbers can and should be better. But it’s foolish to say that the federal student aid money spent during that time did no good.

Guess Brooks is wearing his hack hat today.

Paul Glastris

Paul Glastris is the editor in chief of the Washington Monthly.