Monday, April 28, 2014


Escape from New York

Yesterday’s post on indentured servitude drew some scolding from people who thought the metaphor was overdrawn.  Then, I read this.

James Skoufis, a Democratic Assemblyman in New York State, is proposing making CUNY and SUNY tuition-free for students who fulfill two conditions:

1. They have to perform 125-250 hours of community service per year.  This seems fine.

2. They must agree to stay in New York for five years after graduation.

The “indentured servitude” thing is starting to look more accurate.  Students who can’t afford private college won’t be allowed to move out of New York State for five years.  (If they do, then the tuition waivers they received will suddenly turn into loans.)

Wow.  Just, wow.

I assume that Assemblyman Skoufis means well, but this is a spectacularly bad idea, particularly for traditional-aged students.

I’ll start with the basics.  The early and middle twenties are some of the most mobile years, especially for college graduates.  Those are the years when they try to break into new career fields, find spouses or life partners, and make their way in the world.  Most of the people with whom I went to college were in different states (or countries) at 27 than at graduation, myself included.  We went where the opportunity was.  That’s what ambitious young people do.  And as a society, we desperately need them to do that.  That’s where breakthroughs come from.

I understand the impulse, from a legislative perspective, to want to capture the gains from education locally.  After all, you helped underwrite them.  But state-level protectionism isn’t going to lead anywhere good economically.  If New York tries this, I could imagine other states following suit.  Before long, peasants would be tied to the land all across the country.  How this will help aggregate talent, I have absolutely no idea.

You know what else ambitious young people do, when they aren’t chasing medical school slots or dream jobs?  They couple up.  I can only imagine the ugly conversations.  “Honey, I’d love to come live with you, but I’d need a dowry to pay off my loans.”  I’d like to think that we’ve moved beyond the “dowry” years.  The social interest served by coercing sub-optimal coupling, I can’t even imagine.  And we’d be sending an interesting message to young people: marry interracially if you want, marry your own gender if you want, but whatever you do, don’t marry anyone from Jersey!  That’s over the line!

(For the record, TW hails from the Garden State.  I will defend New Jersey’s honor.)

New York is a biggish state, but it’s finite.  If you’re from, say, Syracuse, you may well face a choice between a rough local job market and moving away.  New York City is an amazing place, but it’s not for everyone.  And outside of the NYC area, many of the smaller economies aren’t necessarily thriving.  Forcing someone to remain in a languishing region when they could have landed a productive position in Boston or D.C. or San Francisco doesn’t serve any useful purpose.  

It can be difficult for a locality or a state to invest in education only to watch talent leave.  But tying talent down is not the answer.  Pushing other states and localities to invest, too, is.  

Higher education should not reinforce provincialism.  I fully agree with reducing the debt burden on college students and new graduates.  But cutting down their futures to what fits within the state lines is not the way to do it.  If a new graduate with a great idea for a startup wants to escape from New York and find fortune in Palo Alto, let her.  And if a nerdy kid from Rochester somehow meets and falls in love with a Jersey Girl, back off.  Surely, somewhere, you can find a real problem to solve.  Maybe you could start with SUNY’s appropriation...

Sorry, you're wrong on this one. What people need is to stop chasing the market, be debt free and community involved. This plan would help do this for New York residents.
@Anonymous: I am in no position to debate right or wrong,but there are plenty who are not just chasing the market. What about the kids trying to go to graduate or professional school and have great opportunities out of state? This is likely not a trivial number of students. It would also then put more pressure on in-state schools to accept more in-state students, which will have tuition implications.

Even if you just look at kids graduating and starting jobs, the economy is poor. As DD says, NY is finite. If the kid has a job opportunity out of state, but none in, is the student still "chasing the market"?
And on top of this, what about states like Wyoming? they might as well abolish their system of higher ed if they put in a requirement to stay for 5 years. Plus, there are plenty of people who DO end up back in their home states, just not in the first 5 years after graduation. Way to make them forego local education in favor of establishing residency in some other state . . .
As I am not a NY resident, I'd like to see them go ahead with this terrible idea, so we all can see the real-world consequences. DD's analysis is a great starting point.
A few comments:
1. I've heard of programs like this for waiving medical or law school--particularly for agreeing to work in under-served rural areas (I.E. you can't just hang out in the city). This is not a terrible idea, though the issue is how well one could opt out (I.E. if you leave, do you get the FULL bill of tuition as loans or a reduced amount that would be what you would have paid with financial aid)?
2. As a native Wyomingite, I can attest to the fact that there's not much opportunity for most fields in my state. A large number of my friends moved down to Colorado to start their careers, because that's where pretty much all the economy is. This isn't so much chasing the market as going with the only available options.
2a. Though as a side comment, some trustees at UW are trying to make it a mere state college to serve the mining and agriculture interests of the state, to which *grumble grumble*.
The rhetorical loop-de-loops that politicians have to make now to avoid proposing tax increases is a sad commentary on the political state of affairs in our society. We're the industrialized nation with the lowest aggregate tax rates, and it is beyond the pale to suggest that we increase tax revenues one penny to support necessary social infrastructure like higher education. What is it about the concept of "common good" that is so hard to grasp?
Well, out of 2.9 million alumni, 2.3 stay in New York ( I don't think losing students to other states is really the biggest problem SUNY faces. And neither does New York face a dearth of college educated volunteers, unless I miss my mark (about half of new college grads are unemployed, or underemployed nationally; not sure about NY figures in particular).
So unless they know something I don't, I have to imagine this is simply a way of providing the appearance of opportunities to a country that is no longer willing to accept tax schemes that facilitate a middle class.
It's another brain drain. Britain had the same problem when graduates from their (free) university programs went to America in the 50s and 60s.
I'm a WNYer and I was a SUNY New Paltz student in the 80s. I loved New Paltz and got a great education there at a reasonable price, supported in no small part by state-level grants and scholarships (back when those still existed). After graduating, I moved out of state to attend a highly regarded grad program. But more importantly than my educational prospects at that time, I moved out of state to escape an abusive relationship and re-launch my adult life in new surroundings. Could I have done that in other parts of NY? Maybe. It is a big place, although the job market in lots of parts of the state in the 80s wasn't exactly promising. But at the time, there was nothing and nobody that could have made me want to stay in NY. This representative's plan, had it been in place at the time, would have forced me to make a choice between staying put in a place I associated with some pretty bad stuff, or taking on a debt burden that would have dogged me for many years.

Anecdotes are not a basis for policy making, but I wonder if this guy has a clue about the unintended consequences of his proposal?
Sigh. Nobody's going to put the up-front money in. This is America we're talking about. We don't invest in our kids.

The thing is, once you look at the proposal, the merits of just spending the money and not trying to get it back become so clear that everyone shuffles their feet and clears their throats and gets back to trying to destroy the broad-based prosperity of the New Deal.

CUNY colleges were free period well into the 1960s. And they worked.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?