Free College: Is It Something We Really Want?

It’s a statistical fact, my generation is swimming in college debt. The Wall Street Journal reported that in 2015, the average student graduated with around $35,000 in student debt. That’s an INSANE amount of debt. That’s not including students who borrowed without graduating and individuals pursuing graduate degrees or any further education after a bachelors or AA. With an estimated 1.8 million graduates last year and and an average debt of 35k, we can estimate that the accumulative average student debt amount for 2015 alone is close to around 63 billion dollars give or take a couple of billion…

AND THAT’S JUST LAST YEAR

SO WHAT ABOUT FREE COLLEGE?

With politicians like Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton pushing for free public higher education, it’s important to understand what all this kind of policy entails.

The fact of the matter is that while this may sound like a great thing, as I truly believe that every person has the right to go to college; this idea might not really seem to be all that it’s cracked up to be.

Some Clarification

As of right now I am a Senior in college who has not been able to finish my education for the past year because of student debt. I very much so understand the struggle of fighting for and pursuing a college education against all odds. Yet despite knowing these struggles, I still understand that there are indeed flaws in a free college policy. One has to understand that when a candidate talks about “free college” they are not saying that college is free. They are not even saying that tuition is gone. They are simply implying that students shouldn’t have to pay it.

So who does?

Different politicians give different answers for that question but for this example we’ll look at Bernie Sanders’ proposal. When Bernie Sanders was running for the democratic ticket, he proposed a bill charging a 50 cent tax on every $100 Wall Street stock; as well as differentiating taxes on lower level stocks.

While other politicians might squabble about the details, a typical free college policy is rooted in the “take from the rich and give to the poor” mentality.

Sounds great right? I mean, why not let the people swimming in money help out the little guy for a change?

Well let’s break it down:

1. COLLEGES WOULD CAPITALIZE ON THE 100% SUBSIDY, GO UP IN PRICE, AND DOWN IN QUALITY

First off let’s think about what gives a college incentive to provide a quality education. The current answer is because the college has to provide that quality service in order to attract students. Makes sense right?

Now let’s think about a scenario where the government pays for tuition and not the students. The school now relies on a system where they can now make a profit regardless of quality; thus there is no longer any incentive to provide it. Students will come to the college because it’s free; not because it’s quality.

Like I said before, the tuition is not disapearing but simply being payed with a full subsidy from the federal government. Contrary to popular belief however, statistics show that while government subsidies might seem to make things easier on consumers, they actually drive prices up.

We especially see this in the health care field since the passing of the Affordable Care Act. Despite the government increasing it’s subsidies, health care premiums continue to rise. Why? It’s quite simple actually. It’s because insurance companies know that they can continue to drive costs up without any concern of losing business. As long as the government is paying for it, why should the customer care right? I mean, it’s not like it’s coming out of their pocket; or is it? In a national income tax receipt published by the White House for 2014, statistics show that 27.49 percent of all income tax goes directly toward healthcare. So yes, the government is paying for our country’s consistantly rising healthcare bill, with your money.

What’s more, the similarities between what Sanders proposed for college and how Canada pays for it’s healthcare are quite similar.

An economic study from the Frasier Institute shows that despite the fact the nation of Canada has adopted a “free healthcare” policy, the actual cost of public health insurance for the average Canadian family has gone up by 48.5% since 2005; outpacing the increase in income for the average Canadian family by 17.7%. That’s an outrageous amount.

Why would we think that colleges would be any different? Healthcare is a business. Higher Education is a business. Both exist to make a profit; and both are going to drive prices as high as possible to do it.

2. PRIVATE SCHOOLS WOULD STRUGGLE

Meet Jane. Jane just completed her first year of college and is on her way back to her home town for the summer. Over the summer, Jane starts to do the math about how much money she’s actually going to have to borrow to finish the next 3 years of her degree. She adds it up and comes to the conclusion that with her current income, she will have to take out about $25,000 to finish her degree.

This makes Jane sad, as she is pursuing a liberal arts degree and knows that she probably won’t have the income to effectively pay off her loans after she graduates.

“If only there was another option…” Jane thinks. Just as this thought crosses her mind, Jane happens across an article one of her friends posted entitled “College For All”. In the article, Jane reads that a law has been passed in which all public college tuition has been made free.

“This is it!” Jane exclaims! Over the next few months, after visiting a few colleges and dealing with a bureaucratic college enrollment process now exacerbated by a sudden influx of students, Jane transfers her credits to a public college in which she can now have a free education.

Now if you’re like me, you’re thinking that this was a pretty common sense move by Jane.

Well if Jane did it, theres a good chance other students would do it too; A LOT of other students. After all, which would YOU choose? The $15,000 a year tuition; not counting room and board? Or free tuition? My money’s on the latter.

The reality is that a great deal of students would most likely leave private colleges or never attend in the first place. This would put private colleges in a very dire predicament. As enrollment falls, private institutions wanting to maintain quality would be forced to raise their prices to compensate; This would just widen the consumer price gap and make public college all the more appealing. On the flip side, some private colleges would choose to lower their prices in order to compete. This would however, leave them with insufficient funds to maintain their quality.

The most likely result being that we would see a whole heck of a lot less private colleges. That’s a real shame as they offer much more specialized training, smaller class sizes, and often better quality. Private Universities are a product of true American entrepreneurship. Such entrepreneurship should be encouraged and supported by our government, not made harder through a competing system.

Born out a need for better or more specialized education, most private colleges were founded out of a desire to make a difference through innovation. That kind of innovation would be quenched and smothered in a Socialist education system; allowing little room for that innovation as the government gains more and more control.

3. THE VALUE OF THE DEGREE WOULD GO DOWN

This is probably my biggest problem with a free college policy.

Back in the day, college was a privilege. A lot of people didn’t even go to college and they were able to still live happy and successful lives because they knew how to work hard, learn a trade, and make a living to support themselves. As for the people who did go to college, they reaped the benefits of being set apart from the competition. This allowed for a less competitive job market and subsequently more jobs.

Somewhere along the line however, we stopped doing that. It became a natural mindset to think that everyone needed to go to college; and if you didn’t, you were just being lazy or didn’t know what you wanted to do with your life.

While I do believe that everyone has a right to go to college. The truth is the college degree system was made for one thing; to help employers differentiate between the qualified and the not-so-qualified; and if everyone has a degree, it completely defeats the purpose.

As Eric A. Hanushek, an education economist at the Hoover Institution puts it in an interview with the New York Times:

“There is definitely some devaluing of the college degree going on. — We are going deeper into the pool of high school graduates for college attendance, making a bachelor’s no longer an adequate screening measure of achievement for employers.”
Read the full article here

It’s education inflation. As more degrees are given, it just makes the overall value of the degree go down. Jobs that used to only require a high school diploma, now require bachelors degrees. Just as jobs that now require bachelors degrees will soon require Masters.

Along with this, students are now being overeducated and under-experienced. As jobs become more and more competitive due to the influx in college graduates, employers are having to rely on experience more and more to differentiate between job candidates; making it harder for less experienced graduates to land their first job out of college.

SO WHAT CAN WE DO?

  1. Cut back on student loan interest rates, allowing students to more realistically pay them off after graduation.
  2. Encourage and teach trades to high schoolers in order for them to find careers and jobs right out of high school; subsequently both creating new jobs and cutting college expenditure.
  3. Teach them that not every job has to be a college graduate White Collar job. Blue Collar jobs are essential for this country’s economy, yet less and less Americans see the value in them anymore.
  4. Cut public funding for non productive college majors and faculty for those majors.

I could go on and on. The fact of the matter is that there is a lot we can do to make college both more affordable and more effective without relying on the 100% subsidized Socialist education system proposed by many politicians these days.

It’s time for our country to stand up and deal with these issues; not through endless government spending, but through innovation and common sense policies. But as long as our government continues to blindly throw money at this issue, it will just continue to enable an already near insurmountable problem.


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