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Refinancing the College Dream

Access, Equal Opportunity, and Justice for Taxpayers

Edward P. St. John in collaboration with Eric H. Asker

Publication Year: 2003

During the 1990s, rising tuition costs and inadequate federal grant aid prevented more than a million otherwise qualified, low-income students from continuing their education past high school. Education policy expert Edward P. St. John is troubled by this situation and argues that equal access to higher education is both feasible and just. In Refinancing the College Dream, he examines recent trends in public funding of education and explores alternatives to financing which would provide equal access to postsecondary education for all Americans. The growing gap in the rate of participation in higher education for low-income groups compared to upper-income groups over the past three decades, St. John finds, has been a direct result of the decreased availability of federal grants, even after taking into account such factors as an increased emphasis on strengthening high school graduation requirements. To reverse this trend, he suggests that policymakers refocus the debate over the public financing of higher education from taxpayer costs to principles of social responsibility and justice, along with economic theories of human capital. He then shows how improved coordination between state and federal agencies, expanded use of loans, and better targeting of grant aid can maximize access for low-income students while minimizing increases in taxes. Making higher education accessible to low-income students is one of the crucial challenges for citizens and policymakers in the early twenty-first century. Refinancing the College Dream offers a theoretical and practical foundation for boldly rethinking the financial strategies used by colleges and universities, states, and the federal government to accomplish this essential goal.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Title page, Copyright

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pp. vii-x

Refinancing the College Dream addresses complex social and policy issues related to public financing of college students and institutions of higher education. While current thought and research on the economics of education has informed this project, my focus extends substantially beyond...

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-14

Attaining at least some postsecondary education is essential for rewarding employment in American society (Council for Aid to Education 1997; Grubb 1996a).1 The percentage of the population receiving a college education increased during the late twentieth century, but still further expansion...

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PART I: Understanding the Access Challenge

The chapters in this part of the book assess the challenge of access to college. First, chapter 2 examines the new access challenge from a social justice perspective, focusing on access for the majority, equal opportunity for students in low-income families who prepare academically, and efficiencies...

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2. Finding Justice in Public Finance

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pp. 17-31

Social justice is integral to the public financing of higher and other postsecondary education. Both taxpayers and students have an interest in college finance. If the vague notion of “future economic returns” no longer provides a sufficient rationale for federal investment in need-based student...

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3. Rethinking Assumptions

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pp. 32-53

The principles of social justice may be an appropriate starting point for assessing the effects on access to higher education of changes in public finance policies, but neither Rawls’s theory of justice nor economic theory provides an entirely adequate foundation for assessing such...

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4. Assessing the Effects of Policy

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pp. 54-74

With the new guiding assumptions presented in chapter 3, we can develop a more complete framework for assessing the ways in which public policies influence educational opportunity (fig. 4.1). For K–12 education, families have a substantial direct influence on educational attainment, but...

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5. The 1970s: Equalizing Educational Opportunity

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pp. 75-99

The federal role in student aid expanded in the late 1960s and early 1970s, as did the state role in funding public higher education. States expanded public systems in response to growth in the size of the traditional college-age populations (i.e., the baby boom generation), founding new...

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6. The 1980s: Middle-Class Assistance

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pp. 100-127

Finding an efficient way to fund college choice by middle-class students loomed as a major challenge at the start of the 1980s. The Middle Income Student Assistance Act and the 1980 reauthorization of the Higher Education Act had liberalized federal grant programs so that, had this legislation...

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7. The 1990s: Justice for Taxpayers?

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pp. 128-151

The policy developments during the 1990s are not easily classified using the traditional terms conservative and liberal. In January 1993, Bill Clinton entered office with an opportunity to make adjustments to educational policy that would have narrowed the gap in postsecondary...

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8. The New Inequality

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pp. 152

The analyses of changes in access to higher education during the past three decades of the twentieth century (chapters 5–7) confirm two essential understandings about the role of finances. First, changes in federal student aid and state finance policies correspond with trends in access...

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PART II: Meeting the Access Challenge

A second purpose of Refinancing the College Dream is to inform policymakers about refinancing and educational reform strategies that can improve access and equalize opportunity. The current patterns of finance are simply no longer viable if our goals are to expand postsecondary access...

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9. The Role of Finances

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pp. 175-189

How can American society expand opportunity for more students to attend higher education institutions, in a way that is equitable for low-income students and just for students from middle-class families and for taxpayers? While this question may seem straightforward, it is actually...

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10. A Contingency Approach to Refinancing

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pp. 190-204

Different constituents have different visions for the future of higher education. Advocates of public institutions will probably continue to develop new rationales for more substantial direct funding. Advocates of private institutions will probably continue to argue for student aid as an alternative...

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11. Improving Access and Equalizing Opportunity

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pp. 205-224

A major new challenge confronting the American educational system is how to expand postsecondary opportunity to reach virtually all college-age students. In the late 1990s, the Council for Aid to Education, a RAND subsidiary, described this challenge as a ticking time bomb: “What we...

Appendix: Trends in Finances and Outcomes

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pp. 225-238


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pp. 239-258


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pp. 259-263

E-ISBN-13: 9781421415840
E-ISBN-10: 1421415844
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421415789
Print-ISBN-10: 142141578X

Page Count: 272
Illustrations: 9 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2003