President Barack Obama has made waves recently by announcing that he plans to make Community College free for the first 2 years if a student can keep a GPA of 2.5 or higher. In a sense, it’s a federally funded scholarship for community college.
People have already taken sides on this issue. Predictably, Democrats are in favor of the President’s plan, while Republicans are against it; at least that’s what it looks like. Take a quick look at #FreeCommunityCollege on Twitter and you might find that there are more Democrats accusing Republicans of being against a good idea and more Republicans accusing Democrats of supporting a bad idea— more than actual support or opposition, that is. Nobody cares about the actual proposition, just that the other side is wrong.
In any case, as a Dempublicratarian Independent voter, this whole free college thing seems a bit problematic to me. Here are four reasons why:
1. Federal involvement in k-12 education hasn’t helped. Why would we want the government involved in college?
Does anyone remember No Child Left Behind? Can anyone recall any brilliant success stories of that piece of work? Let me tell you what I remember from NCLB.
Standardized tests became more common and less rigorous in my high school. In order for teachers to keep their jobs, students had to do well on the standardized tests. In order to make sure that everyone did well on these tests, teachers took valuable time away from teaching what they had been hired to teach in order to prepare us for these “important” tests that didn’t affect our grades…
There was only one test that would ever affect us in any way. The Ohio Graduation Test, or OGT, was to be taken our 10th grade year. We could not graduate from high school until we passed the Science, Reading, Writing, Math, etc. sections of the OGT.
I consider myself to be kind of bright, but in any case, this test was a breeze. The Math section wanted us to be able to do basic algebra and geometry. If you knew how to find the length of the 3rd side of a right triangle, you already aced the Math. It was the same story for the other sections as well. If you had paid attention in 8th grade, you were apparently ready to graduate.
Looking back as an adult, I realize that the easiest way to get more students graduating is to lower the bar. If we let the federal government lower the bar of community college, what favors will we be doing to the lower class?
2. Making college free might not actually help our economy.
Take a quick look at this article about Denmark’s financial crisis and how free college has contributed to the problem instead of helping to fix it. There are various problems. Students with no economic burden (note that I didn’t say debt*) have little to no reason to work their way out of school. With no financial burden, they have little reason to earn high-paying jobs. This leads to lower taxable income, and the nation has less funds to work with. Also, with students able to “pursue their dreams” or becoming philosophers or saxophone players, many would-be engineers are drawn away from the more lucrative fields.
Here’s one key from the article that needs to be recognized: “As the debate heats up, Danish universities have pledged to reduce admission to fields where unemployment among graduates is high.” This means that when education is free, that only the best of the best will get the best majors, and later, jobs. And this is supposed to help the poor?
3. Making things free does not encourage principles of hard work.
If you had a choice to pay for college by working at White Castle or not pay for college and stay home play video games, which would you choose? If you chose White Castle, you’re lying, or you’ve never been to White Castle (I still smell like onions).
Imagine that you grew up thinking Santa Clause was real, and that your amount of presents depended on your behavior. Do you recall how your attitude about behavior and presents changed when you found out that Santa couldn’t actually see every good or bad thing you did? You were going to get the presents anyway.
Now imagine that you’ve had free public school, with free lunch and free transportation, you’ve gone to free community college with a free meal plan and free on-campus housing, and you’d like to move up and get an apartment of your own where you can make your own rules and be the man of the house.
How are you going to respond to your first utility bill? You haven’t had to work for anyone but your teachers for the past 20 years, and you expect to just change that lifestyle on a dime? It’s not happening.
Hard work is what got me and my wife all the way through college (yeah, both of us) with no debt at all. If we continue to live by those principles, we’ll be able to buy, not lease, a home in cash within 10 years. That’s what hard work is worth.
4. Where is the money going to come from?
This is my biggest question, and really there’s not much to say about this financial mess. The United States of America is over 18 TRILLION dollars in debt. That comes out to a staggering FIFTY SIX THOUSAND DOLLARS of debt PER PERSON.
We continue to spend 500 BILLION dollars more than we earn. Every year. I hope I don’t have to explain why I wonder where the money for free college is going to come from, when we obviously have no money to work with.
*I believe that it is feasible for anyone to graduate from college with no debt. My wife and I have both graduated from a 4-year university with no debt. Has there been a financial burden? Yes. Did we have to work hard to get entry-level jobs to help pay for our educations? Yes. Is it fun to spend your Saturdays cleaning toilets and cleaning feminine hygiene products off of dorm room floors? I hope I don’t have to answer that, but I will say that it was worth it.