Friday, June 15, 2012

Wacky: A University of Chicago Professor Says Investors Should Finance Students' College Costs for Cut of Future Income

Luigi Zingales,an economics professor at the University of Chicago, recently proposed an innovative way to finance students' college education costs: allow the venture-capital industry to finance students' college education in return for a share of the students' future income. 

This is how Zingales explained his proposal in a recent New York Times essay: "Investors could finance students' education with equity rather than debt. In exchange for their capital, the investors would receive a fraction of a student's future income--or, even better, a fraction of the increase in her income that derives from college attendance."

Zingales insists that his plan is not a new form of indentured servitude but a way of having the beneficiaries of a college education pay for it--not the taxpayers.

Only an economist from the University of Chicago could come up with such a wacky idea.

A few comments:

First, contrary to Professor Zingales's assertion, the plan is indeed a modern form of indentured servitude, whereby the rich finance the education of  the poor for a share of the poor person's future wages. 

Second, until recently, most Americans considered a college education as a benefit not only for the degree holder but for society at large. We all grow richer when we enable people to become more productive through becoming better educated.  Thus, it makes sense for our society to invest in higher education and to broaden opportunities for people to earn college degrees. To suggest that venture capitalists--not the taxpayers--should finance students' college costs negates the American philosophy of public education, which is to make it available to everyone and to at least partially subsidize it so that no one is excluded based on poverty.

The federal student loan program is indeed in crisis, but we won't end the crisis with oddball ways to finance it cooked up by economics professors. We saw what happened to the housing market when the venture capitalists got involved with it.  Why would we want venture capitalists mucking up higher education?

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