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Here in Kentucky, we’re having exciting experiences with budgets and higher education. Mostly, I’ve been hearing about state schools facing-down pension and health costs, and laying off single-digit percents of their workforce in response, but it turns out the Federal Government can sneeze and do far more damage.
I read today of the case of St. Catharine College, an 85-year-old Dominican school just outside Louisville. The school was small (only 600 students) and, like almost every school in the United States, heavily dependent on subsidized student loans. The subsidies have strings, but they’re poorly defined. In 2011, St. Catharine started offering four-year programs (previously, I gather, they were offering only a liberal arts degree). There were no changes to their curriculum, just the opportunity for more specialization in a student’s choice of classes. The Department of Education reacted by cutting-off financial aid to students, on the grounds that the changes had not been approved. In 2014, the school pointed out that the DoE was wrong. The DoE acknowledged the error, and from 2015 to 2016, processed all the financial aid requests the school sent, as it should have for the past five years.
The damage, however, was already done: The loss of five years’ of financial aid cut the student population of St. Catharine by over a sixth, from 600 to 475 students. Without students, all the financial aid in the world is of no benefit. And so, in July, the school is closing.
Because of a single error — probably made by honest mistake but, after the IRS scandal, I’d check — that was admitted to by the government 475 students have to find a new college, 100 faculty and staff* have to find a new job, an old institution closes its doors, and another link to the country’s past is lost.
Will a single head at DoE roll? Probably not. The US Attorney for the region is trying to be helpful, but isn’t actually going to settle the case to restore the college for the damage done by the DoE.
The Leviathan tripped over its shoelaces and crushed 575 people. The Leviathan isn’t even going to notice.
* Correct from “faculty.”