Well, not exactly…

I agreed with much of what this contributor had to say on our Sunday op-ed page, but she fell down in this one paragraph:

Some folks will continue to believe that the care and education of young children is the sole responsibility of parents. But we have the responsibility for making decisions based on the world as it is, not as we wish. For example, we wish all families could save the money necessary to send their children to college. The LIFE scholarship is a public recognition that some families cannot save the necessary tuition and that the public benefits when more children go to college.

The problem was with that last sentence. The LIFE scholarship, properly understood, is a public recognition that lawmakers (and at least one former governor) believe that middle-class voters can be persuaded to vote for people who help them pay for their children’s college educations.

If the Legislature truly valued public education, and wanted it to be more widely available, it would send more money to the colleges themselves with a caveat that the money be used to lower tuition. Then the middle class — and that’s mostly who benefits from the LIFE scholarship, given its requirements — would not need financial help. That wouldn’t address the problems of the truly needy, but it would express the idea of valuing higher ed.

Lawmakers opt for the scholarships instead because voters are less likely to be personally grateful for marginally lower tuition. Worse, if they are grateful, they might direct their appreciation toward the college or university itself — and what political use would that be to anybody?

8 thoughts on “Well, not exactly…

  1. Dave

    Brad, most of us taxpayers know that if the Life scholarship money was handed to college administrations, it would result primarily in additional “assistants to the Chancellor, more Deans, more educrats, more buildings”. The last priority would be providing funding to students. Under the current program, students have to maintain a B grade level to retain the funding. That is at least an incentive to work hard. But, then again, maybe USC needs funding for another corporate jet, so it is a tough decision for all. Or maybe they could pay for a major league style baseball park? I know you did say caveat, but if the funding didnt have strings attached that were sealed in concrete, the colleges would abuse the revenue.

  2. Laurin Manning

    I agree that Dr. Marsh made several valid points in her opinion piece, but the blip about the LIFE Scholarship and the reasoning behind it was totally off-point, and the logic she claimed was behind LIFE was, well, wrong. Nowhere in the criteria for the LIFE Scholarship is any mention of demonstrated financial need. It’s a merit-based scholarship.
    I disagree in part with your take on the reasoning behind LIFE, too. I do agree with your assertion that “lawmakers… believe that middle-class voters can be persuaded to vote for people who help them pay for their children’s college educations.” But your segue into the next paragraph, “If the Legislature truly valued public education…” seems to indicate that lawmakers claim/claimed that LIFE was created for the purpose of bettering public education and to make it more “widely available.”
    While public education may be enhanced and public education may be more “widely available” as a result of the LIFE Scholarship program, I argue that such outcomes are bi-products.
    I think the rationale behind the LIFE Scholarship is two-fold. First, as you said, it’s to attract the support for lawmakers from middle-class voters (not just parents but college kids too). As you correctly noted, most of the folks who benefit from LIFE are the ones who “need” it the least.
    Second, I think the LIFE Scholarship, like Palmetto Fellows, is an attempt by the Legislature to keep bright students in state during college. And it works. Money talks. (The $$$ sure talked when I opted to remain in state for college.) It’s also important to note that the LIFE Scholarship may be used toward undergraduate education at any accredited college in South Carolina, not just public ones, which is one of the reasons why I disagree that the purpose of the scholarship is to better public undergraduate education and make it more accessible.
    The money absolutely should go to the students and not straight to the institutions, and not just for the reasons that the previous commenter noted. The LIFE Scholarship is a recognition of high achievement in high school and is also an incentive to continue to study hard in college.
    But with that LIFE sales pitch, I must also note that I think the program could be improved upon. The criteria for qualifying is entirely too low, as is evidenced by the fact that half of those students receiving LIFE for the fall of their freshman year fail to maintain the college GPA requisite to keep it. I guess it’s cheaper for the State to cut the pie into tiny pieces when they know that the following year, only half of the initial recipients will be eligible to continue to receive their pieces of the pie.
    I’d like to see the State invest more in the students who are the higher achievers and are more likely to continue to qualify for the reward after freshman year of college. Offering a few more awards around the monetary level of Palmetto Fellows (I’m not sure what the #s are now, but it’s significantly more than LIFE) will entice more of South Carolina’s brightest students to remain in state for college, and, hopefully, thereafter.

  3. Mike C

    Whatever the merits of Life and other scholarships may be, they do come a little late. I think Brad and the good professor are looking at something that kicks in a little earlier.
    My natural inclination would be to point out that a big issue with education is that some kids behave and want to learn and other kids don’t; there’s obviously a lot that upbringing has to do with the behavior and attitude, something the parent(s) did. Since there are now a lot of busybodies who won’t allow the separation of the wheat from the chaff to occur in public schools, it seems to me that private schools for those who really want to learn are a good answer. There’s the added advantage that peer pressure in that setting would set a higher standard; the mean, in other words, that kids would gravitate toward would be higher. But I’ll not expound on this today.
    Instead I’ll turn mischievous and suggest what I suggested to a principal a decade ago. With standardized testing — today we have what we didn’t have at that time, PACT data — a school or a district can focus on the student performance changes that particular teachers make. Each seventh-grade student has PACT scores attributable to different classes and teachers. There are multiple seventh-grade classes that don’t move as a unit into eighth-grade classes. We could track how each eighth-grade student’s performance on the PACT changes as a function of his/her seventh-grade score and over time get a good indication of which eighth-grade teachers make meaningful differences. Ditto for seventh-graders and sixth-grade scores, and down the line. This would provide principals with important information on which teachers are the leaders, who’s doing okay, and who really needs help or a change in occupation.
    Principals and some concerned parents don’t really operate in the blind today – they know which teachers are stellar and which are in the cellar at their school. But it’s an informal and local phenomenon that a little daylight would help.
    Injecting a little hard data into the equation would allow principals to act more like managers in focusing their energies and directing time and resources in meaningful directions. Today they operate in chaos, placating the various competing interest groups as best they can by relying on their imperfect judgment, unsupported as it is by facts, trends, or any sort of performance data.
    Measuring student performance over time would also point the way toward a merit pay system. Teachers whose students consistently outperform their peers in the district or the state could get larger increases. Note that this is relative to the extent that what’s measured is performance increases based on preceding years’ scores. A stellar performer in a school not known for its academic achievement could still be identified based on raw score or percentage improvements.

  4. Steve

    I once asked the local school district
    for PACT scores by teacher. I was
    denied any access to that data and
    given three bogus excuses:
    1) The data is related to job performance
    and personnel issues and thus not open
    to public inspection
    2) The data is too complex for an
    “untrained” person to understand
    3) Seeing data at a lower level might
    allow someone to determine an individual
    students scores. HA! Sort of like
    being able to figure out Barry Bonds
    batting average by seeing the team’s
    total batting average.
    The local school administrations are all
    about keeping parents in the dark about
    what really goes on in the schools. It’s all about managing public relations not
    public education.
    Ever see a
    single admission of any mistakes? Ever
    see a single teacher fired for poor
    performance — they just get moved around
    to different grades/schools until they
    get the hint to move somewhere else.
    All we get are Teacher of the Year,
    Blue Ribbon, Red Carpet, Palmetto Choice,
    blah blah blah. Meanwhile, our high
    school dropout rate is staggering… our
    SAT scores are mediocre… and the number
    of average or worse teachers in the districts increases all the time as
    unfettered growth in the area causes
    schools to have to lower standards on
    teacher qualifications.
    Rather than look at PACT data that only
    tests students on taking tests, talk to
    some parents who have had kids in the
    public schools for the last decade.
    It’s not as rosy as the administrations
    want you to believe.

  5. Lee

    LIFE scholarhips and student loans are not the answer to the problem of tuition costs increasing faster than family incomes.
    If this trend continues, no one will be able to afford college, and will be dependent upon government approval of who can attend, as it is in many European countries. The next step, as Hillary Clinton proposed, is government dictating what each student can study.
    The only real means of America keeping education as a means to social and economic advancement is demand better management of the schools at all levels. Any administrator who cannot control tuition costs is a managerial failure, and needs to be replaced, regardless of his charisma, grand visions, or football teams.

  6. Bill Johnson

    Dear Brad, I agree with your comments about the LIFE scholarship. I simply don’t agree with the amazingly importance politicians and even regular folks put on scholarships like them. They are not, and never will be enough to pay for college. Knowing this should take away the argument that without them someone will be unable to attend college. My parents had 4 children and unless we got a full academic or athletic scholarship, my parents had to foot the bill – or in my case I did. Student loans are readily available and so easy to get! Please, people – especially idiotic politicians and special interest groups like the NEA – STOP making LIFE, HOPE and other small scholarships sound like the only way someone can go to college. It is simply a lie.

  7. Lee

    In the late 1960s, USC and Clemson cost about $350 for tuition, $120 for a room, and $165 for meals per semester. Books cost about $100. You could go to college for the entire year, go on dates, to to movies and ball games, and eat a pizza on the weekend for $1,800.
    Summer was 18 weeks, and at minimum wage with some overtime, you could work an entry level construction job and make enough to pay your entire way through school without borrowing a nickel.
    Then came the inflation of Nixon, Ford, and its explosion under Carter. Dishonest and inept college administrators padded the bills to equal inflation, and then kept it up when inflation decreased.

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