David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
After All, It's Only Money

February 15, 2022

Last week, I ranted briefly (and poetically) about third-party payment systems for higher education, the scenarios where someone else than the student (or the parent) covers the costs of higher education. In Michigan, and I am sure in most states, the primary third-party payment model for years has been through dual enrollment.  Our state government pays the high schools to pay the colleges to cover the tuition of high school students earning college credit while still in high school.  On the surface, it should be simple enough, but because the high schools get the money, they negotiate specific tuition rates. Again on the surface, understandable, but complicated when multiple colleges and universities could be involved.

The model the high schools ideally want is what is often called direct credit, where the high school instructor is authorized by the college to teach the college class. Students stay on the high school campus, the instructor is on the high school payroll, and thus arguments can be made for lower tuition since the instructional cost is minimum.

This is not Advanced Placement, which has been a perfectly good model, but which only benefits the highest-achieving students.  The government is doing this to provide access for all students to earn college credits while still in high school, thereby reducing later debt when the students go on to enroll at a university or college.

It's a perfectly noble idea, even if it provides tons of headaches for the colleges (and, since I don't know, I will assume also for the high schools). As I have told parents and potential students for years, the kids are the ones who get the benefit — College credit (sometimes a whole year toward a degree) at no cost.

I have been underestimating the benefits to the kids, especially in the time of the pandemic.  I found out this week that these dual enrolled students, who haven't had to spend a dime of their own or their parents' money for college credit, are eligible for relief dollars from the federal government because of the disruption caused by COVID-19. 

The Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) II, implemented at the beginning of this year, allows "institutions [to] use HEERF grant funds to make financial aid grants to non-degree seeking, non-credit, dual enrollment, and continuing education students." (You can find the full explanation at the link above.) Apparently, since these monies are to help students with unexpected costs that arose from the pandemic (computers, additional travel, that kind of thing), the assumption is that these high school students must have needed all of that also.  Think about it: a 16-year-old pimply-faced kid who sat in Mrs. Snodgrass's (his regular high school English teacher) Freshman Composition class earning 3-credits that Anonymous High School negotiated a $50 fee with Desperate-Down-The-Street College for each student's tuition is finding a check from the federal government for $525 when he or she gets home this week.

How students are to use the HEERF money is pretty vague: it "may be used for any component of the student’s cost of attendance or for emergency costs that arise due to coronavirus, such as tuition, food, housing, health care (including mental health care) or child care."  I am pretty sure none of those apply to the kid sitting in Mrs. Snodgrass's class using the school-issued Chromebook. Someone's getting a new pair of shoes! 

At work, we have joked that employees should have signed up for a class, to make themselves eligible for the $525.  It would have been cheaper than a bonus and it would have helped some faculty loads. Too bad, it feels like buying the diamond necklace for the big event, only to return it later.

I know this blog often delves too deeply into higher education morass and turns off the casual reader. Let me try to put this whole farce into perspective.

The government (your elected officials) takes taxes (your earnings) and gives them to our strapped secondary schools (where your kids go) to be used to support college-level education (one under-funded entity) concurrent with high-school level education (see previous parenthetical element), thereby not directly supporting either, allowing kids to earn college-level credit not from the hands of those hired to teach college classes (and at most public institutions, also still using your tax dollars).  So, while we continue to see Paul robbed to pay Peter, we now learn that the grant money is being given to the one person in the equation (the high school student) with absolutely no investment in the system.

It's a Rube Goldberg machine.  And I am pretty sure we are the rubes.