Free Tuition?

Democratic candidates are stumbling over themselves in a bid to offer the most sweeping promises of college student loan debt to young voters.  Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are the most detailed and perhaps the most generous of the candidates in this respect, offering partial loan forgiveness based on current earnings (Warren) or complete forgiveness of all debt regardless of current earning levels (Sanders).

It’s a smart ploy, of course.  College tuition has skyrocketed in the past 40 years and now even in-state students can easily rack up tens of thousands of dollars in loan debt – per year – at a public institution.  The local state university near me estimates $30,000 a year for an incoming, in-state freshman living off-site.  Just tuition is over $12,000 a year.  What a campaign pledge – imagine not having your student loan payment any more!

Funny how none of the candidates are questioning the outrageous tuition rates.  Funny how none of them are questioning whether it is reasonable, rationale, or moral to set a 4-year degree as an expectation for every single person in our country, regardless of their aptitude or the necessity or applicability of such a degree to the work they’d like to do.  Funny how the party that likes to portray itself on the side of the working person presumes that the average working person should be a college graduate no matter what the cost.  In fact, the cost is irrelevant because if you vote for us, we’ll eliminate the cost!  Well, the upfront cost.  In reality, you’ll still be paying college tuition not  just for yourself but for everyone else through higher taxes and other fees imposed either personally on you or the financial institutions you rely on who will pass the costs on to you.  For the rest of your life.  But right now?  When you’re 18 or 25?  Poof!  No more $500 student loan payment a month!  You’re instantly richer!  If you vote for us, that is.

This is what I call the short-term view of the situation, though.  Trading student loan forgiveness for short-term votes.  What I believe is going on though is a much bigger and long-term play for votes.

Universities and colleges – especially public ones – are overwhelmingly liberal/progressive/Democratic in outlook and philosophy, both as institutions as well as in terms of the personal views espoused in and out of the classroom by professors as well as in the textbooks used.  Of course Democrats are going to push for everyone to go to college, because by and large everyone will be exposed to the ideologies and assumptions that undergird progressive/liberal platforms.  While this will obviously be the case at public institutions, it will also be the case at many private ones as well.  I’ve talked with multiple recent graduates from the local private, Christian university in town.  They jokingly laugh about how they entered the school with one set of ideas – generally more conservative and traditional both politically and spiritually –  and emerged with a more progressive/liberal set.  Some can recognize this and chuckle about it – sometimes.  But I don’t see many of them resisting it very much or very well.  To get through the system you need to at least be able to repeat what they want you to say, even if you don’t believe it or agree with it.  Do that often enough, and it’s hard not to internalize the ideas you are required to regurgitate.

So of course Democrats want to subsidize higher education.  It’s in their best interests in the short term (since once this becomes a policy, there will be a gradually decreasing level of  support and therefore votes specifically for the Democrats as the ones that inaugurated the policy).  But it is also in their best interests for the long haul.  They have the best chance of creating people who agree with their policies if everyone goes to college.  That’s a frightening reality, but not a very far-fetched one, unfortunately.

As a former college educator I highly value education.  But I question the outrageous costs associated with it, and I question why nobody wants to tackle that question seriously.  I also question the honesty of trying to prep everyone for college as though this is the path to financial success.  The past decade at the very least has shown this is not necessarily the case any longer.  While there are some  professions that legitimately require not just a four-year degree but more advanced degrees beyond this, for many professions and companies a 4-year degree is just a box to be checked off on a job application rather than a directly relevant matter of knowledge and experience.

Voters should be skeptical of the plan to offer free college education.  Not just financially but ideologically.  On both fronts, this isn’t nearly as good a deal as it sounds (and frankly it shouldn’t sound like a very good deal to anyone with the ability to think clearly – college-educated or otherwise!).  The government offering to subsidize an industry is pretty much a guarantee that costs will rise and quality will drop in that industry – at least if health care is any gauge.

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