Free College is the Proverbial Free Lunch

As candidates enter the field for the 2020 Democratic Primary, they are placing a stake in the ground on the issues that they see as most important to their potential voting constituency.

Former HUD Secretary and San Antonio mayor Julián Castro has let it be known that his intention is to oust Trump in the next election, and like Bernie Sanders did in 2016, he plans to make ‘affordable’ college part of his platform.

Affordable is in quotes because the details of Castro’s plan have yet to be released, but if he is going to demonstrate progressive bonafides, that ‘affordable’ will have to change to ‘free’ real quickly. After all, each instance in which such a promise is made is another opportunity for those furthest left to get a soundbyte in.

The reality is though that ‘free’ college is anything but. The commitment made is to take taxpayer funds and redirect them from a seemingly societal need to an individual one. Roads are something that potentially every citizen could benefit from. A fire department responds to the needs of all in its jurisdiction.

A college degree’s predominant benefit is to the person who receives it. The wealth of data that exists to support this fact has been proffered time and again: degree-earners receive 66% higher earnings than those with a high school diploma. Those with a Master’s degree receive double the pay of diploma bearers.

And despite anecdotal stories of late that many with a college degree are ‘overemployed’, a term suggesting that people are getting a degree but not demonstrating the skills to employers that one would expect accompany the credentials, the pay gap between those with a degree and those without continues to increase.

So if these individual benefits accrue to anyone with a degree, how do we make the opportunity available for everyone? For those on the far left, the answer here is a simple one: make a degree free to obtain.

But ‘free’ here only refers to the recipient. The reality is, someone else is paying for that degree, and more likely than not, that someone will be a person without a degree.

As of 2017, a mere 33% of adults in America indicate they have a bachelor’s degree or higher. While that number is the highest it has ever been, it also means that only a third of the public who have benefited from a degree, and all its supposed income advantages, would be contributing back into a taxpayer-funded free tuition system.

The remaining 67%? Those would be the people who never went to—or at least never completed—college. Those would be the tradespeople, factory workers, and retail employees who aren’t receiving the income advantages of a degree, now paying for someone else to receive such advantages.

Even further to the point, imagine a tradesperson with children of their own, who is training their kids to follow in their own footsteps—to carry on the family legacy in the trades. Now imagine that this individual has to pay the freight for someone else’s children to go to school.

That someone else could be a degreed individual themselves, with a lifetime of additional earnings that they frittered away on something other than saving for their child’s education. We are now suggesting that those who have benefited most economically be subsidized by those who received no such benefits.

This is a form of wealth redistribution that seems contrary to everything for which the left stands. Money from those with a lower lifetime earning potential would be channeled to those with greater opportunities for financial success in life.

This would make sense if the jobs that only required a high school diploma were in short supply, while those requiring a degree were plentiful. This is simply not the case.

The trades are experiencing unprecedented labor shortages. Seventy percent of construction companies nationwide cannot find the workers they need. In areas of the country where growth is exploding, the number is that much higher. The trades should be the first option for many, not a fall-back contingency.

And on the opposite end of the spectrum, companies that offer high-paying jobs and once sought only degreed professionals are walking back that requirement. Non-traditional learning methods that are available now allow those truly committed to learning new skills to do so without the encumbrance of acquired debt.

Why then place incentives on and provide subsidies to the sector of the economy where median earnings have stagnated?

If the aim is to create a generation of productive, taxpaying citizens, the obvious answer would be that we need not create any further incentives for people to avoid the trades. However, as pundits suggest, their may be alternative reasons that the left pursue such policy goals.

As college enrollment numbers have declined since the 2008 crash, academics have found themselves on the outside looking for work in a profession that no longer has the employment base it once did. Grants and funding given for academic research and pursuits are harder to come by as administrations tighten the purse strings at the state and federal level.

So while those on the left fight over whether free tuition programs should be means-tested or not in the blue-est of blue states, and students lament when they learn they won’t benefit themselves from the policies, enrollments continue to drop, schools continue to shutter, and consolidation continues in an industry struggling with relevance in a changing landscape of learning.

Government needs to stop propping up a dying business model—and make no mistake, higher education is big business—and look instead at solutions that encourage employment where job growth is on the rise. There is no such thing as a free lunch, as the saying goes. But there is also no reason that those who will have little problem putting food on the table in the future cannot pay for their lunch now.

This article originally appeared on Buck Stodgers and His Bastion of Wastefulness.

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Free the People publishes opinion-based articles from contributing writers. The opinions and ideas expressed do not always reflect the opinions and ideas that Free the People endorses. We believe in free speech, and in providing a platform for open dialog. Feel free to leave a comment!

Andrew Forcier

Andrew is a former Montana state legislative candidate who works in human resources and is passionate about personal freedom. Given his area of professional expertise, he loves to cogitate on occupational licensing, the minimum wage, corporate cronyism and organized labor, which is why is wife is really glad he writes for a few different publications. He can also be found writing about movies and metal music when not advocating for liberty.

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