Talking Heads and Twisting Facts

I can't bring myself to actually submit comments on most 'news' sites, given the general quality of those comment sections.

However, I do find myself sometimes reading really terrible uses of true information in an attempt to support one opinion or another ... and I want to have the chance to complain about these misuses and either have my opinion confirmed or have it pointed out to me why I am confused.

I suspect I'm not alone, so I'll begin my rant with the latest 'opinion' piece on CNN from William J Bennett, http://www.cnn.com/2012/03/22/opinio....

He has had a couple of doosies lately, but this one is a poorly made argument as to why federal financial aid for college students is a failure, as he predicted it would be in 1987. Now, I'm not at all sure if his theory is correct or not, on the face of things, there is some logic to it, but he completely fails to give any compelling evidence.

At one point, he does try to use some numbers to make his point:

William J. Bennett wrote:

Furthermore, taxpayers are getting fewer returns for their money. In 2009, the six-year graduation rate of bachelor's students was 56% in the United States. In 1997, it was 52%. During that time period, student aid skyrocketed. According to the College Board, "Total student aid increased by about 84% in inflation-adjusted dollars over the decade from 1997-98 to 2007-08." Taxpayers are subsidizing higher education at greater and greater costs while institutional performance has not kept up.

What?

Who in their right mind would ever believe that an increase in Financial Aid would lead to an increase in college graduation rates? This man was once the Secretary of Education ... so either he either lacks any understanding of the purpose of Financial Aid (to allow those who can not afford a college education on their own a chance to attend college) and therefore was incredibly unqualified for such a position, or he is intentionally putting together numbers in an irrelevant fashion in the belief that his readers will be too dense to see that they in no way support his claim.

In fact, if you look at the raw data available from the survey he mentions, http://www.higheredinfo.org/dbrowser... , the number of incoming freshmen in 1991 was 958,343, which increased to 1,457,717 in 2003. That is a 52% increase in the number of students seeking Bachelor degrees. If you look at students seeking an Associates degree, the increase is 71.5%.

So, before I continue accusing this guy of either being a dunce, or attempting to mislead others to advance his goal of decreasing the chances for 'class mobility', can someone tell me if I missed something?

And, feel free to add other examples where you think a talking head is abusing true information in this fashion.

Just read any George Will column from the last few years, and chances are you'll see the same thing.

absurddoctor wrote:

so either he either lacks any understanding of the purpose of Financial Aid (to allow those who can not afford a college education on their own a chance to attend college)

I think everyone agrees that expanding access is the reason for financial aid, but I suspect a lot of voters also assume that this access means that a high proportion of people are getting educated with the money the government spends.

Every government program is evaluated based on its efficacy. To take it to one extreme, if the graduation rate was 10 percent or 5 percent, would it be wrong for someone to suggest that the money used to subsidize education could be better spent elsewhere?

Funkenpants wrote:
absurddoctor wrote:

so either he either lacks any understanding of the purpose of Financial Aid (to allow those who can not afford a college education on their own a chance to attend college)

I think everyone agrees that expanding access is the reason for financial aid, but I suspect a lot of voters also assume that this access means that a high proportion of people are getting educated with the money the government spends.

Every government program is evaluated based on its efficacy. To take it to one extreme, if the graduation rate was 10 percent or 5 percent, would it be wrong for someone to suggest that the money used to subsidize education could be better spent elsewhere?

I'm still not convinced the graduate rates have any bearing whatsoever. If I'm wrong on that, we would at least need to compare the rates of those who receive aid vs those who do not. If they are comparable, and if we still believe that a college education has value for the person who obtains it, and increases the value that person can contribute to our society, then yes, that suggestion would be wrong.

Robear wrote:

Just read any George Will column from the last few years, and chances are you'll see the same thing.

The bow-tie-heavy, jean-shorting portfolio pays off?

Just keeping this focused on your basic argument that the graduation rate has nothing to do with rising costs of student aid, not on the overall value of student aid in general, I agree. It is just thrown into the article as a 'your taxes are being wasted!' boogeyman for people that don't actually think about what they are reading. If with 1990 student aid levels 100,000 people went to college and 50,000 graduated that is 50% rate. Now in 2010 with the increased student aid 150,000 people went to college and 75,000 graduated. That is still a 50% rate but 50,000 more people went, so the student aid did its job of make college accessible to more people. Student aid has nothing to do with graduation rates, just providing opportunity for people to attend.

I think that expanding access to financial aid beyond a certain point just encourages colleges to lower the bar on admissions and provides a disincentive to control costs since there's no risk that they're not going to get paid.

People love to moan about double digit increases in health insurance but you don't really see our politicians going to war against the double digit tuition increases.

bandit0013 wrote:

People love to moan about double digit increases in health insurance but you don't really see our politicians going to war against the double digit tuition increases.

Health care costs for the hundreds of people employed by the typical college might indicate a correlation between those two figures.

Katy wrote:
bandit0013 wrote:

People love to moan about double digit increases in health insurance but you don't really see our politicians going to war against the double digit tuition increases.

Health care costs for the hundreds of people employed by the typical college might indicate a correlation between those two figures.

If that was the correlation then any business that had employees would raise prices double digit percentages every year.

bandit0013 wrote:

People love to moan about double digit increases in health insurance but you don't really see our politicians going to war against the double digit tuition increases.

Putting higher education out of the reach of the common man is a plot to keep the public from changing the system, man!

Actually, that's probably frighteningly close to a real thing.

Robear wrote:

Just read any George Will column from the last few years, and chances are you'll see the same thing.

The bow-tie-heavy, jean-shorting portfolio pays off?

Back when he actually wrote his columns himself, I used to enjoy his criticisms and kudos of and for his opponents each week. But since the late 90's, he's taken to deliberately misleading. He's now just another propagandist hack, willing to toe the party line without once stepping off of it, and to do so in blatant disregard of the facts to further a divisive agenda. I can't take anything he says as accurate without researching it myself these days. Just look at his climate change editorials for evidence.

It's a shame. He's a nice, smart guy. But he's decided that party positions are more important than consistency, or intellectual integrity, which were once his hallmarks. Sad to see that go away.

Mixolyde wrote:
bandit0013 wrote:

People love to moan about double digit increases in health insurance but you don't really see our politicians going to war against the double digit tuition increases.

Putting higher education out of the reach of the common man is a plot to keep the public from changing the system, man!

Actually, that's probably frighteningly close to a real thing.

It doesn't have to be an intentional plot to have that effect. Many systemic problems are unintentional side-effects.