Okay, in the State of the Union Speech last night our president outlined a plan for two years of “free” community college for people willing to work for it. Are you kidding me? First of all, there is no such thing as Free, everything costs something. The community college initiative of our executive branch is already estimated to cost about $60 billion dollars over the next decade if it gets enacted. Again, someone has to pay for that $60 billion dollars because the government doesn’t have any money, the government only has all of our money. So in fact the taxpayers are going to fund 2 year community college programs if this passes.
The problem with that is we already subsidize the living shit out of the world of higher education. In 1862, yes that long ago, we passed the Morrill act, which provided federal land grants to the states who were supposed to use the proceeds to create colleges for agricultural and mechanical studies. The states loved blowing that money so much that regular appropriations began with a second Morrill Act in 1890. Then in 1917, Congress passed the Smith-Hughes Act…with a number of rules imposed on schools in order to fund the salaries of vocational educators (the first real federal control over school content by the government). Then the first major subsidy for students came in 1944 with the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 (the G.I. Bill). Some colleges increased the tuition rates charged to veterans to soak up the available money from the government (sound familiar yet). Then came the Higher Education Act of 1965 which is the founding point of many student loan and grant programs, college aid, teacher training, etc.
Fast forward to today where the government spends about $30 Billion dollars a year providing subsidies for higher education…so what is adding another $6 Billion going to do to that total. Here is an interesting factoid. College costs, i.e. tuition, has increased 1120% since 1978 when records started being kept. How much of the taxpayers freaking money has the government poured into higher education in order to make it more “affordable.” College gets more expensive every year and consistently tuition rates outstrip inflation by a magnitude.
Research presented in College Choices: The Economics of Where to Go, When to Go, and How to Pay for it (2004) showed no correlation that government subsidies increased the number of students attending college. However, it did show that subsidies make consumers less resistant to to tuition increases (see the G.I. Bill and 1944 all over again) which makes it easier for universities to increase tuition costs passed on to the student. What do you want to bet that the increase in tuition matches almost exactly the amount of federal aid coming in? Well, you’d be right, colleges raise tuition in accordance with the amount of subsidy they are receiving and still ask the student to pony up the tuition not covered by the government.
This is in part because we keep preaching that you can’t get a good job without a college education, you’ll go nowhere in life, yada, yada, yada. I know plenty of people with no formal college level education that they instead got from libraries and books, who are extremely successful people.
If the president really wanted to make college affordable he would immediately move to end all subsidies and grants to colleges for tuition. This would force colleges to either explain why their programs are worth so much more money than the average middle class family makes in a year, or reduce the cost of admission to something real and affordable for the students who want to attend their institution. But this isn’t about higher education, it never has been otherwise the government would have butted out by now. No, this is about increase of government reach, influence, and regulation.
Bigger government is good for us all as you well know.