经济学人官方译文 | 高等教育成本之辩的意义

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Free exchange
自由交流
Terminal degrees
最高学位
The meaning of a debate about the cost of higher education
高等教育成本之辩的意义

IN MANY WAYS the flood of bold, progressive policy proposals coursing across America’s political landscape began in 2015, when Bernie Sanders, an independent senator from Vermont, put a plan to make higher education at public universities free at the centre of his upstart campaign for the presidency. Then the idea seemed radical, even gimmicky. Now it is noteworthy when leading Democrats oppose the notion. Yet some do, for example Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, and their arguments still pack a punch. Why indeed should taxpayers’ money be spent on the children of the rich rather than more generous financial aid for the poor? The Democratic debate over free college is in fact part of a deeper disagreement about how best to structure a welfare state.
从很多方面来说,这一席卷美国政治舞台的大胆、进步的政策建议的洪流始于2015年。当时来自佛蒙特州的独立参议员伯尼·桑德斯(Bernie Sanders)在他夺人眼球的总统竞选活动中,将一项公立大学免费高等教育计划作为自己的核心纲领之一。当时这个想法听起来很激进,甚至像个噱头。现在,民主党领袖们反对这种提议,这让它变得更值得关注。有些人确实不认同它,比如南本德市(South Bend)的市长皮特·布蒂吉格(Pete Buttigieg),而且他们的论点仍然很有说服力。为什么纳税人的钱应该花在富人的孩子身上,而不是更慷慨地资助穷人?民主党关于免费上大学的辩论实际上关系到如何最好地构建福利国家的更深层分歧。

Across much of the rich world, a public-university education is free or nearly free, apart from the cost of books and living expenses. (Danish students even receive a stipend to help pay for such things.) But those in America and Britain pay tuition fees which are high and growing higher. In Britain, a change in the law in 1998 allowed public universities to begin charging. The average tuition fee at four-year public universities in America has roughly tripled over the past three decades after adjusting for inflation. Rising fees represent an evolution towards a means-tested approach to covering the rising cost of higher education, which has gone up steadily all around the world. Places like America and Britain pass some of this increase on to students in the form of higher fees, with the understanding that poorer students will receive financial aid while richer ones will bear the full tuition bill.
在许多发达国家,公立大学教育是免费或几乎免费的——书本费和生活费除外(丹麦学生甚至还能拿到一笔津贴来贴补这部分开销)。但美国和英国的学生要支付高额学费,而且越来越高。英国在1998年修订了法律,允许公立大学开始收费。经通胀调整后,美国四年制公立大学的平均学费在过去30年里增加了约两倍。全球的高等教育成本都在稳步上升,而学费上涨体现了一种趋势:按对收入的调查结果来提供补贴以负担成本的增长。像美国和英国这样的地方通过提高学费将部分增加的成本转嫁给学生,它们认为贫困学生会获得助学金,而富裕学生将承担全部学费。

To many politicians in these places, this seems just. Unlike primary or secondary education, university is a minority pursuit in most advanced economies. Across the OECD, a club of mostly rich countries, only about 45% of adults aged 25 to 34 have some post-secondary education. Those people tend to come from richer families and to earn more than the population as a whole. A universal programme that mostly benefits a well-off not-quite-half of the country would seem a strange aspiration for egalitarian-minded politicians (though less strange for those desiring young people’s votes). Better to target aid at those from poorer families.
在这些地方的许多政客看来,这是公平的。与小学或中学教育不同,在大多数发达经济体,大学是少数人的追求。在成员主要为富裕国家的经合组织(OECD)中,年龄在25岁到34岁之间的成年人中只有约45%接受过高等教育。这些人往往来自较富裕的家庭,收入高于总体水平。对于推崇平等主义的政客来说,一项普及计划主要惠及的是不到全国人口一半的富裕人群,似乎是个奇怪的愿望(尽管对于那些渴望获得年轻人投票的人来说不怎么奇怪),最好把援助给予那些来自贫困家庭的人。

An economic approach points in a similar direction. A post-secondary education represents an investment in a person’s future earning power, thanks to the skills obtained in school, the connections and credentials gathered along the way, and the signal a tertiary degree provides to employers. Since students reap most of the benefit, they should bear the cost (borrowing against future earnings if need be), lest subsidies encourage people to spend years at university that might be better allocated elsewhere.
经济上的考量也指向了类似的方向。高等教育是对一个人未来赚钱能力的一种投资,好处是他在学校获得的技能、一路走来收获的人脉和证书,以及大学学位向雇主发出的信号。既然学生获得了大部分的好处,他们理应承担成本(如果需要的话,用未来的收入做抵押贷款),而不是因为有补贴,而把本来用来做别的事可能更好的几年时间花在大学里。

Against this, supporters of free university marshal a number of practical arguments. University attendees are more likely to come from wealthier families precisely because university is not free, they say. There is something to this. Higher tuition charges do push some people away from post-secondary education. Several analyses of the introduction of tuition fees in Britain found a negative effect on university attendance. A report produced by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, a think-tank, estimated that an increase of £1,000 ($1,243) in tuition fees is associated with a decline of 3.9 percentage points in the rate at which recent school-leavers choose to go on to university. Work by Thomas Kane of Harvard University found a response of similar magnitude in America. And research by Susan Dynarski of the University of Michigan and Judith Scott-Clayton of Columbia University concludes that both attendance and completion rates are higher when education is more affordable. Their work also suggests that the tangle of eligibility rules and application processes students must navigate to get financial aid can lessen its benefits.
对此,支持免费大学教育的人提出了一些实用的论据。他们说,上大学的人更有可能来自富裕家庭,原因正是大学不是免费的。这有些道理。更高的学费确实把一些人推离了高等教育的大门。对英国公立大学征收学费的几项分析发现,学费对大学入学率有负面影响。据智库英国财政研究所(Institute for Fiscal Studies)的一份报告估算,学费每上涨1000英镑(1243美元),近期高中毕业生选择继续上大学的比例就下降3.9个百分点。哈佛大学的托马斯·凯恩(Thomas Kane)的研究发现美国的情况也类似。密歇根大学的苏珊·戴纳斯基(Susan Dynarski)和哥伦比亚大学的朱迪思·斯科特-克莱顿(Judith Scott-Clayton)的研究得出的结论是,当教育成本更低时,入学率和毕业率都更高。他们的研究还表明,助学金申请资格和申请程序的混乱会弱化它的好处。

Free tuition, by contrast, is simple to administer and easy to understand. The rich, furthermore, can pay for their privilege later in life through systems of progressive taxation. (Mr Sanders would pay for his plan through a tax on financial transactions; his Democratic rival, Senator Elizabeth Warren, would fund a free-college programme with a tax on multi-millionaires.) In any case, many young people from well-off households will attend pricey private universities rather than free public ones.
相比之下,学费全免实施起来简便又易于理解。此外,富人可以在日后通过累进税制为自己得到的好处买单。(桑德斯将通过对金融交易征税来为他的计划提供资金;他的民主党对手、参议员伊丽莎白·沃伦[Elizabeth Warren]将对千万富翁征税以资助一项大学免费计划。)无论如何,许多来自富裕家庭的年轻人将就读昂贵的私立大学,而不是免费的公立大学。

Wolves and sheepskins
狼和羊皮

But the most powerful arguments for free university are about values rather than economic efficiency. To politicians like Mr Sanders, a post-secondary education is a part of the basic package of services society owes its members. There are broad social benefits to a well-educated citizenry, because new ideas allow society as a whole to prosper and cultivating an informed population in an increasingly complex world probably takes more than 12 or so years of schooling. Amid constant technological change, a standing offer of free higher education may represent an important component of the social safety-net. Universality reinforces the idea that free education is not an expedient form of redistribution, but part of a system of collective insurance underpinning an egalitarian society. To progressive politicians, means-tested services send the message that government programmes are for those who cannot help themselves, whereas universal programmes are a means by which society co-operates to help everyone.
但支持免费念大学最有力的论据关乎价值观,而非经济效率。在桑德斯这样的政客看来,高等教育是社会应给予其成员的基本服务的一部分。受过良好教育的公民可以带来广泛的社会效益,因为新思想会让整个社会繁荣发展;而在一个日益复杂的世界中,要培养出具备足够学识的人群,只上12年左右的学可能不够。在不断的技术变革中,长期提供免费高等教育可能是社会安全网的一个重要组成。“普及”强化了这样一种观点,即免费教育不是一种再分配的权宜之计,而是支撑起平等主义社会的集体保障系统的一部分。对进步的政客来说,以收入为准提供服务所传递的信息是政府项目是为那些无法自助的人服务的,而全民项目则是整个社会协作以帮助所有人的手段。

Ironically, such values-based arguments, however one feels about them, are undercut by rising inequality. As the rich pull away from the rest, their increased political power may stymie tax rises needed to fund universal public services. Meanwhile for progressive politicians the need to target available funds at the worst-off in society grows more urgent; in America, the argument that the children of billionaires should not receive a government-funded education takes on greater moral as well as practical weight. It is probably no coincidence that tuition fees are lowest in places with the most equal income distributions (see chart). Strong safety-nets compress the income distribution. But inequality may also make the sorts of comprehensive public services that underpin egalitarian societies ever harder to sustain.
讽刺的是,无论人们如何看待这些基于价值观的论点,它们都被日益加剧的不平等这一现状削弱了。随着富人与其余人群拉开差距,他们日益增长的政治权力可能会阻碍为全民公共服务提供资金的增税措施。与此同时,对于进步政客来说,将可用资金用于社会最贫困人群的需求变得更迫切了。在美国,认为亿万富翁的子女不应接受政府资助的教育的观点在道德上和实践中都更有影响力。收入分配最平等的地区学费最低,这可能并非巧合(见图表)。强有力的安全网压缩了收入分配差异。但不平等也可能使支撑平等主义社会的综合公共服务越来越难维持。

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