by Dr. Watson Scott Swail, President & CEO, Educational Policy Institute
Ok. I just read this article in The Chronicle for Higher Education this morning. “Former Graduate Student Sues Vanderbilt Over Grant-Payback Requirement.” The gist of the story is that a young, pretty graduate student receives acceptance letter from the famed Peabody College of Education and Human Development in 2009 offering her a position and a fully-funded package, or so we are told. But during her first semester, the school asked her to sign a promissory note to pay back the $250,000 her education would cost, OR spend two years of public service for each year of education. That totals eight years.
You can read the full article and make your decision, but two immediate issues come to mind. First, how could a school like Vanderbilt let something like this happen? I am waiting to see if they have a signed promissory note, and if not, why not? If the latter, then they should be responsible for the full amount. One court has already thrown out Vanderbilt’s court case against the student, so there must be something in the air.
The second thing, of course, is how could a student who gains admissions to one of the finest graduate programs in the nation be so naïve—well, so damn stupid—to not see this coming? I’m sure this wasn’t even a fine print issue. I just find it hard to suspend my belief for a moment that there wasn’t some paperwork, let alone discussion, about this special federal program.
So, two things happened here that should be of great concern: (1) institutions must be much more consistent about the funding that students are to receive; if students are unwilling to fully comprehend their responsibility and sign on the dotted line, they don’t get in. But it is incumbent upon Vanderbilt to make this happen. You want free market higher education? Then be ready for the consequences; (2) we need smarter students. This is simply ridiculous. It took a little hubris—perhaps ignorance—to admit to a mistake like this, even if Vanderbilt was the lead culprit (and that’s an if at this point, to be fair).