David Brooks has a New York Times column complaining, in part, that Republicans are coddling senior citizens: "Seniors vote....seniors are being protected while children are getting pummeled....In Washington, the Republicans who designed the cuts for this fiscal year seemed to have done no serious policy evaluation. They excused the elderly and directed cuts at anything else they could easily reach."
I made a similar point here the other day in a post about the budget of Governor Chris Christie, Republican of New Jersey: "If there's pandering, it's to senior citizens..."
Mr. Brooks' column goes on: "Pell grant levels have surged in recent decades, but college completion rates have been flat. The administration would reform the Pell grant program, eliminating parts that don't work. More important, it would establish stronger incentives so colleges have an interest in getting kids to graduate, not simply attend."
Mr. Brooks seems vaguely approving of this incentive-to-graduate idea. He doesn't mention that, as with nearly any incentive created by money directed by Washington, the potential for unintended adverse consequences is significant. Once you start giving colleges a financial incentive for students to graduate (other than the strong private incentives that already exist, such as higher rankings in U.S. News and World Report surveys and more donations from richer and more satisfied alumni), the next thing that happens is you get students "graduating" with diplomas that are meaningless. After all, the schools aren't to be paid by the government to educate the students, just to graduate them. If the government is going to incentivize anything, it shouldn't be either attending or graduating, but learning. And good luck with getting the colleges and the federal government to agree on a measurement of that.