With most of the 2,412 contenders for the Democratic Party presidential nomination calling for some version of “free college,” it’s worth asking whether or not that’s actually a good idea.
Having worked in higher education for more than 34 years, I believe the answer is a resounding “no.”
First, the term “free college” is clearly misleading. As all responsible adults know (but apparently not the 2,412 Democrat candidates), nothing is ever free. The real question is, who pays?
Elizabeth Warren says she’s going to hyper-tax billionaires. But that peace pipe won’t smoke. We don’t have enough billionaires to pay for everyone’s college, while at the same time wiping out most student-loan debt, as Warren also promises to do.
The truth is, you and I, the Great Unwashed, will be the ones paying for other people’s kids to go to college. I don’t know about you, but I’m finding it challenging enough to pay for my own kids’ college, even after years of scrimping and saving.
Moreover, college education in this country is already heavily subsidized for needy students, in the form of Pell Grants. There is virtually no one who really wants to attend college who can’t find the money. They might not be able to go to Harvard, but they can attend a local community or technical college.
“Free college” would actually be welfare for the upper-middle-class, with the government paying higher tuition for kids who can get into more expensive schools — and whose families already have the means to pay.
It’s also been my experience that people don’t place as much value on something that doesn’t cost them anything. I remember how I treated the family clunker my folks let me drive versus the way I doted on the first car I bought myself, with my own money (a sweet ’71 Chevy Nova, in case you’re interested).
In addition, assuming students had to meet some sort of criteria to qualify for or keep their benefits, “free college” would lead to even greater grade inflation.
Look what’s happened at the high school level with the HOPE scholarship. Students need A’s and B’s to qualify for HOPE? Then by golly, lets give them A’s and B’s. Now a B average is neither an indicator of academic ability nor a predictor of future success.
If “free college” ever becomes a reality, the same will be true for college graduates within a decade.
Finally, and perhaps the best reason to resist “free college,” is that it’s brought to us by the same people who introduced every other wacky educational fad over the last 50 years.
Left-leaning faculty members and administrators love to decry the current state of the academy, ignoring the fact that their side has been running it since the 1960s. Now they want to double down with another cockamamie idea that will only make things worse. I say, “No, thank you.”