More Nonsense about Free College

More Nonsense about Free College

[lead dropcap="yes"]Progressives/liberals are obsessed with the idea of free college for everyone, probably because it’s an electoral winner. What it is is another trillion-dollar boondoggle. Here’s the latest proposal from the op-ed pages of the Boston Globe.[/lead]

Marcella Bombardieri of the Center for American Progress pushes the group’s new plan that would give free in-state public college tuition, room, board, transportation and other expenses to students from families that make less than 150 percent of the federal poverty level. Middle-class families would pay up to 10 percent of their income. Upper income would pay 20 percent. (There’s nothing to indicate what they mean by “middle” and “upper”.) If they go to private schools or out-of-state public schools, they would pay “slightly higher.”

For their part, schools would be given golden handcuffs of promises of more federal and state funding in exchange for certain guarantees of quotas filled and “benchmarks” reached, i.e. “teach this in this way and enforce these social engineering rules, follow these government mandates, etc.”

What would be the cost of this little plan? Just $60 billion per year, they claim, a pittance compared to … name your big federal program here. But of course, the real cost would be more than that. Way more than that. Why?

Because when the consumer isn’t the one spending their money for the product, the cost of the product is no longer under any downward pressure. Look at health care costs. They’re out of control because the patients don’t pay for it, the insurer does1. So once the student is only paying 20% or 10% or nothing, then the schools can raise tuition up and up. They’ve already been doing that for decades, much faster than inflation, because of federal guaranteed student loans. Wait until the loan isn’t even a loan any more.

Oh, but the government will institute caps of course. You think so? Not after the higher education lobbyists get done schmoozing Congress. Grease enough campaign coffers and it will be smooth sailing for the growing bank accounts of colleges.

But then all of this is founded on a fundamental lie: That a college education is a necessary prerequisite for a prosperous and industrious life. Or that college is the best path in life for everyone.

What is the value of a college education if everyone gets one? It just becomes another high school diploma, a minimum standard for getting en entry-level desk job and nothing more. And because a college degree will become necessary for success, then colleges will have to raise their graduation rates to meet federal mandates. And because half of the population is of below-average intelligence (it’s simple math, think about it), then college will have to be dumbed down to accommodate.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of good jobs that do not require a college degree, but probably require some kind of specialized training, that make much than what a lot of these marketing major BAs make, are going unfilled.2

What we don’t need is another boondoggle. What we need is to convince more young people to consider good jobs right out of high school and to avoid expensive college degrees that neither they nor the rest of us can afford to give them; to stop feeding the bloated college-industrial complex; and to divorce higher education from vocational career training that it’s become tied to.

Rather than make college free what we need is to free college to pursue higher truths and big thoughts and academic research that benefits all of us.

  1. Of course, it so much more complex than with deductibles and co-insurance and co-pays and government mandates, but that rather proves the point further, doesn’t it?
  2. Mike Rowe of “Dirty Jobs” fame has made a second career highlighting this problem and the attendant skills gap.