One of the platforms in the 2016 US election is pushing the premise of “free college” to appeal to the youth vote. I’m here to explain why “free college” is potentially a waste of tax dollars and not something that political candidates should be focusing on.
Tuition Is Unregulated, And We Don’t Need More Debt
Why do people rally behind the idea of “free college”? One would assume because of how incredibly expensive the average four-year education has become. If college were reasonably priced, and easily afforded, nobody would be griping about it’s increasingly astronomical price tag in the first place. So basically, the argument boils down to: college has gotten too expensive, so now it should be covered fully by the tax dollar.
There’s one problem with this mentality though. The U.S. is currently over 19 trillion in debt. The U.S. is in debt because it has a tendency to recklessly spend far more money than it brings in. To put it into perspective, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan cost the U.S. a mere 1.6 trillion. Roughly 1/10 of our debt can be attributed to these wars. The other 90% is due to all the other instances of annual overspending of tax dollars. The money spent on college is estimated to be about 300-400 billion dollars annually. (20 million students at 15-20k a year: a modest estimate) This isn’t a very small number, when you keep in mind the U.S. brings in roughly 3 trillion in taxes per year currently. All these expenditures add up of course, which is precisely why we are 19 trillion in debt to begin with. College would be yet another drop in the bucket, driving the country further into an increased mountain of debt.
Perhaps we could actually afford “free” college if we radically cut back on all the other expenditures that got us into debt, but this would require a little bit of fiscal responsibility. Unfortunately the candidate(s) who push the socialized college angle are not the same candidates who also lay out a plan for cutting current government expenditures. Their general approach is to offer a bounty of services and promises to their constituents, without ever providing an honest discussion as to the negative effect it would have on the country’s finances. Ultimately, the people who buy into this pipe dream are those who prefer that other people get taxed more to cover the expenditures of the government, rather than expecting the government to take responsibility for controlling their own zealous overspending.
A lot of the populace doesn’t seem to understand the basic economics behind government spending. For example, many of the same people who are behind Bernie and his platform of increased tax expenditures tend to be the same people who praise Obama for chipping away at the deficit. It’s almost as if they have a complete lack of understanding of basic finances. Essentially, they’re applauding one person on lowering the governments expenditures, all the while backing someone else who aims to raise those same expenditures beyond where they previously were. Does this math work out in some bizarro universe I’m not privy to, or is this merely a product of common-core math?
If this whole “free college” movement was born out of outrageous tuition costs, why not focus on the problem at hand? Namely the fact that colleges are gouging students based on the increasingly erroneous assumption that having a piece of paper guarantees you some sort of fruitful future. College is by no means a necessity in life, and there are many other alternatives for education out there. If auto companies started rapidly increasing the cost of their cars, would these same people start clamoring for the government to pay for everybody’s automobiles? Why is an individual’s choice to go out and purchase an automobile handled differently than their decision to pay for further education? You have myriad choices in both instances.
As a final point, if tax dollars start funding college educations, and college costs haven’t been regulated in some manner, there is nothing to stop colleges from continuing to raise tuition costs. People complain about tuition costs, because they themselves have to pay for what they chose to purchase. If the government started paying for everyone’s college, universities could start charging a million dollars for a degree, and nobody would complain about it, because they would never actually see the bill. Meanwhile, we end up setting a new world record by being the first country to surpass 100 trillion in debt.
Free College Is Classist
Nobody growing up in a poor area with a terrible K-12 education system is going to benefit from receiving free college. If you graduated from high school and were provided a substandard education, colleges aren’t going to be scrambling to admit you entrance. The kids who grew up in nice areas with good school systems will be the ones with the grades and SAT scores to get into college. The kids from the other side of the tracks, living in broken homes will largely be getting the shaft on this deal.
If students no longer face having to finance their own college education, the number of people applying to colleges will jump drastically. Why would you not go to college if you could avoid working for 4+ more years, get something for free and perhaps get to do a little bit of partying on the side? With a surge in people applying to colleges, the kids with average to lower grades will have no chance getting into a college that is already burdened with deciding who it will admit, and who is out of luck. Perhaps they’ll still take a scant number of the poor riff-raff merely as a publicity stunt for good will, but the rest will just have to go to trade school. (Where they may or may not statistically end up making more money on average than holders of increasingly devalued college degrees, but this is beside the point.)
This is why it’s far more important for government to actually focus on improving K-12 education across the board, rather than essentially providing a free “luxury” item. Between the No Child Left Behind Act and the Common Core Initiative, K-12 education has been left in ruins, and put U.S. children even further behind the rest of the world. Early education desperately needs to be reformed, long before college education even enters the discussion. Increasing access to a good education for everybody,
is ultimately better for the country than merely giving a bonus to those who actually need it less. 15-20% of children in this country grow up in poverty and realistically won’t be benefiting from socialized higher education. Taxes shouldn’t be used for anything this substantial that isn’t available to the entirety of the populace.
Half of College Classes Are Pointless
Colleges are businesses, and as such, need to be able to spend as little money as possible in order to make the biggest returns possible. One way to do this is by hiring under-qualified individuals to teach pointless classes rather than to hire well-educated individuals to teach meaningful courses. Hence it costing the same per cred hour for a class in the STEM field as it does for a throw-away course that has no viable use in the job market.
Sure it’s all shits and giggles to sign up for a class like Politicizing Beyoncé, The Sociology of Miley Cyrus, or even Zombies in Popular Media (all real courses), but you’re paying $250 per credit hour on average ($650 out-of-state) to take these classes, not including whatever books you may need. These classes aren’t worth your money, and certainly aren’t worth taxpayer money. Go buy a book about zombies or a pop artist, and save a few hundred dollars.
On top of the cutesy meme courses, there exist too many degrees that really aren’t worth spending over $100k on. The problem is, kids are pushed into college right after high school, because it’s seen as something they have to do to make a good living and be successful in life. When an aimless kids gets to college and needs to choose a major, they will likely choose something in the liberal arts field, like communications, philosophy, sociology, creative writing, psychology, or some type of history. Most of these undergraduate degrees either aren’t specialized enough to be very useful, or require further education to be of any use in the job market.
Roughly 35% of undergraduate degrees are in the STEM fields. These are fields that will generally be worth the money you are paying for them, assuming you have a good work ethic and are proactive in finding a good job. Obviously STEM fields aren’t the only important jobs, but STEM degrees tend to attract the individuals who go through college with a sense of purpose, rather than doing so merely to obtain a degree. Merely obtaining a degree won’t guarantee you anything in the workforce if you aren’t adept in the field you decided to major in.
For the record, I have nothing against liberal arts majors such as philosophy. In writing an article such as this one, I’m essentially philosophizing about what the negative impacts of sweeping legislature might be, mixed with a little bit of research and statistical data. However, if you have half a million kids going to college and getting philosophy degrees, what exactly are they all going to do with those degrees? Society needs philosophers, but it doesn’t need millions of them. Luckily with “free” college, the taxpayer would be eating the debt on that investment, and not the individuals, or their parents. Buyers remorse from impulse purchases would become a thing of the past in the new regime.
Colleges Have Become Regressive indoctrination Centers
This point is one that practically writes itself. Anybody actually paying attention to the news in the last year or two has seen the dramatic shift colleges have taken, from being learning centers, to becoming indoctrination stations. There was a time in the past, where colleges were places one would go to learn how to think critically and expand one’s horizons. Now colleges are places where kids are taught to reject any idea they have been conditioned to believe is wrong, and to segregate themselves from anyone who thinks differently.
These kids protest and actively try to block speakers from talking at their schools. If you are too much of a child to accept that people have opinions that differ from yours, perhaps you don’t understand why you don’t get to silence or block others from speaking. Ultimately, the colleges are to blame, since they actively cancel speaking engagements, rather than teaching the children why this isn’t an acceptable way to act. This mindset ends up snowballing out of control, the wardens lose control of the prison, and these kids end up becoming junior terrorists, making demands where they should have no power to do so.
The universities are starting to pay for their widespread incompetence, however. Schools that make national headlines due to pandering to these baby fascists, end up taking hits in enrollment, and consequently funding. No rational parent is going to want to send their kid to a school that will potentially turn their offspring into a safe space, trigger warning, thought-Nazi. If you waltz into a McDonald’s and decide to act like an asshole, you would more than likely be removed from the premises. If you act like an asshole on one of these campuses, you shouldn’t receive any sort of fame or special treatment for doing so. Hence the social blow-back and damaging side-effects.
Entitled middle class liberals are being conditioned to believe that they are somehow an oppressed class, despite living in one of the wealthiest, most privileged counties in the world, and attending institutions that are largely homogeneous in an ideology they overwhelmingly follow. What exactly are you being oppressed by? Reality? Adulthood? If you want to experience actual oppression, you’re going to need to leave the comfort of your bedroom or dorm.
Education is important and should be a much larger focus in this country than it currently is. K-12 education is far more important in the long run, is in dire need of reform, and should be our primary focus, long before college education is even brought up. Candidates need to be honest with the voting public about economics, rather than constantly pandering and promising stuff that merely adds to the national debt. Colleges need to get their shit together and stop catering to these problem contingents. They are technically businesses that reserve the right to refuse service to children whose parents never taught them to act right. Kids need to stop going to universities, only to major in pointless things like Cambodian Feminist Pottery Studies. Lastly, colleges need to be more open to differing views, rather than creating environments of insular thought.