An Open Letter To Al Franken

I received an email from Senator Franken. Among his accomplishments touted was supposedly keeping college affordable for Minnesotans, accomplishing this by keeping student loan rates low, and trying to expand the issuance of Pell grants and other sources of financial aid. 

This was my response to the Senator:

Dear Senator Franken 

While I appreciate your wanting to keep the cost of education affordable for all Minnesotans, your solutions appear to be centered on only one side of the equation. 

While I applaud your efforts to keep interest on student loans low, and to expand the availability of Pell grants and other sources of financial aid, I must wonder what is being done on the other side of the equation– to keep college costs down? 

What is happening in colleges seems to be highly analogous with what is happening in health care. In health care, raises in prices are passed on to health insurance companies, who in turn merely charge higher premiums to their users. There is no competition nor pressure brought to bear on medically-related institutions to hold the line on costs, as they simply pass the costs, almost whimsically, back to the consumer. 

In the same manner, as colleges raise their tuition rates with impunity, government responds not by holding educational institutions accountable for their costs, but by increasing the levels of debt on the part of students and/or cost to the taxpayer in terms of financial aid subsidies. This necessarily keeps tax burdens on individuals and businesses elevated, and necessarily increases the already insurmountable mountain of debt incurred by students. 

What is the threshold under which government will put a ceiling on financial aid? 

If government places such a ceiling on the level of financial aid given to students, colleges will necessarily need to adjust tuition and other associated costs or face severely declining enrollment. 

In other words, competition and market-driven forces will bring pressure to keep the costs of college at affordable levels. 

And, incidentally and likewise, competition and market-driven forces will force health care providers to keep their costs at affordable levels (I present the lowering costs and higher quality and availability of laser eye surgery as a shining example of this concept). 

Senator Franken, at the beginning of this screed, I didn’t think about tying these concepts, health care and higher education, together. But now that I am typing this, I have come to the conclusion (and I hope that you can follow me) that what it comes down to is this: what is missing from Higher Education and what is missing in health care–including Obamacare–is the very thing that will alleviate issues in both of these problematic areas– the introduction of market forces to bring costs down to affordable levels. 

Sir, I have little hope that you will take this to heart, as no doubt your partisan blinders will prevent you from seeing the inherent similarities between these two out-of-control aspects of our society, and that these two sectors share a nearly identical solution (market-driven forces); but then again, one can certainly dream. 


Leo Pusateri

7 thoughts on “An Open Letter To Al Franken

  1. Retired Spook September 26, 2013 / 8:51 am

    We had this discussion a couple years ago, and the cost to attend college has skyrocketed since then. When I was a freshman at Miami University in Oxford, OH, in 1963/64, my total room, board and tuition cost (out-of-state) for the year was around $1,750, and books added another hundred or so. Here’s the cost today for Miami. Back in the early 60’s, my dad’s (my mom didn’t work) annual income, IIRC, was around $20,000. That means my college education cost him less than 10% of his income. Actually, I got married in the middle of my junior year, and my folks paid for one more semester. I paid for my last year by bagging groceries, driving an ice cream truck and working a summer construction job. Parents today would have to have a combined income of $475,000 in order for the cost of sending their son or daughter to Miami to be under 10% of their income.

    And don’t even get me started on the Regents at Miami changing their sports mascot/nickname from Redskins to Red Hawks a while back.

  2. Retired Spook September 26, 2013 / 10:00 am

    OT, but an interesting article at MarketWatch this morning.

  3. Count d'Haricots (@Count_dHaricots) September 26, 2013 / 4:01 pm

    I can only speak to the UC system.

    Over the past 10 years all costs associated with higher education have gone up; I’d be amazed if any industry didn’t make the same claim. And while these costs have risen the amount of state support has dropped. For the first time in UC’s history the amount paid by the students exceeds the amount paid by the state of California. Meanwhile, enrollment has skyrocketed at all campuses pushing the costs up even farther. The UC system has put a cap on enrollment but that simply pushes students off to the Cal-State System which is in similar straits, as is the community college system.

    Cost cutting programs have had some success; eliminating programs with low ROI; “streamlining” staff positions; delaying or suspending infrastructure improvements; capital and debt restructuring, but fixed costs continue to rise and income offsets are becoming increasingly restrictive.

    Although we are “state run” we (the UC System) operate outside of the state’s budget (all the jokes about me being a state employee notwithstanding — I’m not a state employee, see?) we are still constrained by state actions vis-à-vis union contract negotiations. We need groundskeepers, dishwashers, janitors, cooks, maintenance, drivers, trash haulers, police and safety.

    What do you suppose the rise in minimum wage in California is going to do to our Union contracts?

    And we have thousands of non-union staff currently making less than the prevailing wages for their positions. Staff has experienced 2 salary increases in the last 10 years; each
    We have the advantage of being a research university system, but making it a university requires that we offer non-research related disciplines. An entomology degree still requires a load in humanities for which there is little or no research money available (if you don’t count the monkeys, and they’re a hoot!)

    Faced with rising costs and dwindling resources raising tuition and fees are the only alternative.
    Perhaps we shouldn’t have hired a President with no academic background. No research background and no fundraising background. But, she’ll be good for the Unions!

  4. neocon01 September 28, 2013 / 12:07 pm

    open letter to al franken…you were a terrible “comedian” who got cheated in to office. You totally SUCK in this job as well. go back to “comedy” you jerk… 🙂

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