Education

Obama’s Next Useless Subsidy

January 16, 2015

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Obama’s Next Useless Subsidy

As if the country weren’t full of enough petulant, overgrown children.

President Obama’s new proposal to offer “free” community college for two years to anyone “willing to work for it” is more of the same trite welfare nonsense that further belittles an already feeble nation.

The president’s plan comes at the opening of a new Congress where Republicans are, at last, in charge. It’s not that Mitch McConnell and John Boehner will pass anything that actually shrinks the size of D.C. The most any cynical conservative person can hope for is that they’ll stop the worst of the executive overreach and act as a bulwark against harebrained progressive schemes. And there is nothing more asinine than the government picking up the tab for community college.

The president’s “free college” proposal requires congressional authorization, which means it hopefully will get the thumbs down from Republicans. But since the party of Lincoln is so laughably inept at preventing the government’s growth, there is a slight chance the proposal could become law. Should government-provided college become the norm in America (more so than it already is), it may well corrode the sliver of self-responsibility still left in the country’s young adult population.

“Today’s top universities are no longer churning out thoughtful graduates who go into adult life with a worldly view on things. They are spitting out overachievers who are so afraid of failure they can barely function in normal life.”

Obama’s proposal contains the loaded term “free,” so right away the plan comes off as a costless way to help out high school graduates. The government has already socialized the handling of student loans. Surely, it can’t be a huge jump to provide “free” tuition for the lowest rung on the university ladder.

But nothing that comes out of the Mordor that is the District is actually free. Obama’s plan will cost an estimated $60 billion. Admittedly, that’s a drop in the bucket compared to the $18 trillion in national debt. Even so, you don’t dig yourself out of a financial hole by promising to extend credit to give away more freebies. For the left, fiscal responsibility is one of those archaic ideas that has its roots in white, oppressive patriarchy.

The problems with the president’s new social scheme don’t end with the price tag. The “free college” initiative is being marketed as a benefit to the middle class when, in reality, it’s aimed at the worst performers in school. Anyone bright enough to pass high school can find a way to have college paid for, either through loans or scholarships. Reihan Salam of National Review points out that community college is virtually free already for the low and middle classes. Using statistics from College Board, he writes that in the 2011-2012 school year, “net tuition and fees were $0 for students from households earning $60,000 or less while it was $2,051 for students from households earning over $106,000.” If the president’s plan becomes law, it won’t exactly lift the middle class to new and unimaginable heights.

Uselessness aside, I suspect there is something greater behind Obama’s push for more universal education. Given the current low price of community college tuition, the program is demonstrably aimed at pleasing the sensibilities of liberal voters. Obama-backers won’t receive any support through the program, but they will feel good about generating one more form of welfare. As George Mason University economist Tyler Cowen estimates, the marginal impact of free community college will be minimal at most. Once again, the possible success rate of a government program is overestimated, which is a disservice to the public.

As immature and illiberal as college curricula already are, the idea of sending more impressionable youths to any form of university is idiotic. The state of higher education in America is in dire straits. The traditions that have long defined a well-rounded education have been eroded over the last few decades, with more and more emphasis placed on accumulating high marks and resume boosters. Stanford scholar Franco Moretti recently proposed a radical emphasis on “quantitative reading” by colleges, to replace actual absorption of classic texts. Contemplation on normative and moral goals is being replaced with a pseudoscientific push to turn human beings into cold, calculating machines.


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