By Mike Tront – Support Mike on Patreon
It would take a miracle for Bernie Sanders to win the Democratic nomination at this point, let alone the presidency. One of his main ideas though, the idea that College should be free for Americans, is not going away anytime soon.
Just like healthcare, constant government regulation and intervention is making college more and more expensive every year. Students are taking out huge government-backed loans to pay for their education, and the costs keep going up as more easy money enters the system. Eventually the student loan bubble will bust, and this will be the excuse the government needs to step in and “fix” things.
You don’t have to look too far to find articles and studies on why the Bernie free college plan will be an economic and financial disaster. But the huge taxpayer liability isn’t necessarily the worst part. The worst part is that making college free will totally decimate the quality of higher education and it will keep the poor, poor and the rich, rich.
Let’s imagine Bernie gets his wish. To start, most Americans will be eligible for government to pay for their college education. To paraphrase the above O’Rourke quote: If you think college is expensive now, just wait until it’s free! Now that government is footing the bill, why wouldn’t college’s, and the various industries that go with them (books, school supplies, housing) up their costs even more? Sure, the college’s that would be eligible for the free money will be “public” or “non-profit,” but since when has that been an impediment to making tremendous profits? (The NFL and the Clinton Foundation are both “non-profit” organizations!)
Once this gets out of hand, the government will have two choices: Either completely leave the field of funding and regulating higher education (Ha!) or completely socializing it. I think we all know what path legislators will take.
Socializing higher education, in order to keep costs down and to make it “fair” for everyone, would have to look something like our current public school system. First, you’d only be allowed to go to your local neighborhood college for free. The costs of you choosing your college and the government paying for housing and travel will just get too high. Not to mention, what happens if everyone wants to go to the same colleges? There’s only so much room at each school, so to make it “fair” you’d be forced to go to your local government college.
So if you grow up poor and in a bad neighborhood, the option of working your way up and out is gone. Previously, you could work your way through college, get some grants and/or loans, then you’d have a shot at a better life. Now, unless you can afford housing in a better college district, you’re stuck. And just like now, the poorer the neighborhood you live in, the worse the education you’re going to get. Good luck getting a high paying job with your “Detroit Public College” degree.
How far does this “right” to free college go?
What if I’m a bad student and I’m constantly failing my classes? What if I want to come back in 10 years when I’m finally serious about my education? Is there an age limit on my “right” to a free education? Can the government deny me my “right” to free college then?
How about graduate school? Who pays for that? Is it fair that only the wealthy will get to become doctors, lawyers, dentists, and other high paying professions? And if grad school is a “right” too, shouldn’t anyone get to go regardless of their aptitude or previous grades?
What if I want to major in two subjects? Is that allowed for free? Or will double majors just be for the wealthy? Again, free college is a “right” so why shouldn’t I be allowed to go to school indefinitely, constantly changing or adding majors?
These are all questions that will not be decided by you and me on an individual and voluntary basis, but they will be decided by bureaucrats and legislators. And you’re stuck following their decisions and paying for their decisions whether you like them or not.
If you’re a free college supporter, I’m sure you’re going to argue that many countries already have free college education, so why not America?
The reason many other countries can afford free college is two fold: First they have much lower rates of people actually going to college, which leads to the second fold: many occupations in European countries simply don’t require a college degree like in the U.S. Apprenticeship and on the job training is still an important part of many industries in Europe, just like it used to be in America when someone with a high school degree could have a quality standard of living, and have an opportunity to move up in life if they choose.
The fact is, the results of offering free college to all Americans regardless of grades, aptitude, or ability to actually apply such an education will result in another failed socialized industry that will stagnate and just cost more over time. Most Americans will get stuck in a local, government college that will eventually offer little more than what high school did. Thus is the nature of a government monopoly. We get a worse product at a much higher cost to everyone.
The only people who will be able to escape this system will be the wealthy, of course. Just like all socialist policies, this will make it that much harder for someone on the bottom to move up in life, and it will protect the people currently at the top.
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