Noah Smith Advocates a Federal University System


Sounds good to me. Education is a state thing by tradition, not constitutional restraints (I know a lot of you like to pretend that appropriating money for the general welfare is just meaningless pillow talk, but it really is the law of the land - I promise).

Still, although it's "just tradition" sometimes traditions are there for a reason. We have had major federal investments in higher education in the past that continue to pay dividends. It was a land grant back then, but why not another major federal grant to the states, not for existing schools but for new schools? What that would offer, of course, is decentralization of control.

We do four year colleges pretty well. What we are weaker in is mid-level skills. So why not a large federal infusion for community colleges and two year degrees. Or even better: federal high schools. One of the big problems with American high schools is that they are reliant on local tax bases. Even in the most egalitarian cases, they're still reliant on state-wide tax bases and income at the state level still varies considerably. It might be more worthwhile to scatter federal high schools across particularly poorly served areas of the country than it would be to create federal universities.