A major topic of conversation this week was President Obama’s newly unveiled #FreeCommunityCollege program, one that would offer a free two-year degree to any student who maintains a 2.5 GPA or higher throughout the course of completing their degree. The federal government would take on approximately 75% of those students’ tuition costs, while states would be expected to handle the remaining 25%. On the surface, this sounds like a great idea that would help students who can’t afford a higher education. However, this hands a huge amount of control over a student’s education to the federal government, a distant bureaucracy in Washington that knows nothing about you personally but is somehow still trusted to make decisions that affect every aspect of your life and future. This is one of the main reasons why such a plan will result in negative consequences. From dispersal of power to overcrowding to fostering dependency, a vast number of aspects in the plan will lead to disaster.
“But,” you may still be saying, “we’re still getting a good deal. Sure, it’s a release of power on our part, but at least we’re getting an education that we definitely need!”
Are you sure about that?
Government intervention is part of the reason why getting a college degree has become so problematic in the first place. First, an enormous over-investment in higher education by the federal government is partly to blame for the ballooning tuition rates that prevent students from affording that education in the first place. Studies show that only three in ten students will complete their Associate’s Degree within three years. Then, as a result of the deflated economy, recent college graduates are increasingly taking jobs that usually go to high school students (thus preventing the latter from saving for their own future education).
These are valid reasons for the federal government, rather than increase the amount of its involvement in education, to take a step back and maybe–gasp!–allow states to handle their own education systems. Decreasing the federal government’s role would help foster a sense of diligence and determination in students, pushing them to complete their degrees in fields that will help them retain jobs and maintain a stable lifestyle. States are laboratories of democracy, but those models should be willingly replicated by other states, not enforced by a federal headmaster that only gives states the choice between conforming and going it alone. Nationalized standards force the smartest students down to much lower levels, virtually equalizing “A” students and “F” students through federally-created norms.
One of the biggest issues with President Obama’s proposal is the expense that will be forced upon taxpayers to pay for it. We are a nation that is almost $18 trillion in debt, and increasing the benefits that taxpayers are forced to pay for does nothing but raise the debt to levels we will never repay. Taxpayers should not be forced to pay for students’ college degrees, especially when the standards for receiving such assistance are maintaining just barely a C grade point average. Rather than enlarge government’s capacity for caring for personal needs, we should be encouraging independence from government.
Perhaps an even more fundamental issue in play, however, is the culture that will inevitably develop from following such a policy. Who is more likely to pursue good grades and timely graduation: a student who pays little to nothing out of his or her own pocket, or a student whose spare time is spent working toward scholarships and jobs to help pay for academic expenses? My bet is on the latter, and studies have been shown to confirm it. A student with “skin in the game” is more likely to succeed simply because the drive is stronger when something personal, like invested funds, stand to be gained or lost. If everyone gets a trophy just for walking onto the field, no one will be very motivated to work to score a goal. If, on the other hand, almost anyone can get their education at these schools subsidized, the drive to succeed disappears and we place those hard-working students at a competitive disadvantage when working toward that education. Students who receive government aid will be chosen for the sake of higher attendance rates. Never mind about those graduation rates…let’s just focus on getting people into the system and keeping them there as long as they like. Sound familiar?
In many ways, President Obama’s proposal isn’t even necessary: students who honestly cannot afford the costs of community college already have options available to them. Many, for example, receive federal Pell grants that pay virtually all tuition and school expenses. There is no heartless effort here to deny anyone an education. While education is a privilege and not a right, it is clear that a college degree is useful in preparing for a future career. Efforts are already in place to provide a college education to as many students as possible; contrary to what initial proposals suggest, this #FreeCommunityCollege plan will only make it more difficult for good students to get the quality education they deserve.
Utopian ideas of federally-subsidized free college educations for all sound nice in theory, but the specifics of such a plan will prove to be disastrous. By encouraging a generation of students who won’t know what it’s like to work for something they want, what will we teaching them about future situations when money is tight and expenses need to be paid? Ultimately, these students will learn that government will be there not only to catch them if they fall, but to carry them so that they have no fear of falling at all. Campaigns like #FreeCommunityCollege will pull students down rather than encourage them to continue climbing the ladder of success.