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In this month's State of the Union Address the president put forth a plan to make college tuition more affordable. The proposal was met with praise in most quarters on the left, but surprisingly little attention from the right.
The only explanation I can think of for this involves political demographics. With student loan debt surpassing credit card debt before recently reaching $1 trillion, the nation’s students are understandably desirous of lowered tuition. Sifting through the comments sections of news articles it’s not uncommon for me to see people say things like “It is morally wrong to force college students into debt without the possibility of paying it back.” Such rhetoric worries Republicans who in the aftermath of 2012 are primarily concerned with broadening their appeal.
Republicans have been treading lightly over the issue of government subsidized student loans, wary of disenfranchising the coming generation of younger voters. This was obvious in the way Gov. Romney handled such questions in the debates last fall.
A clear expression of why government involvement in student aid is harmful has not been articulated on a national scale. Republican politicians meekly claim to be against expanding Pell Grants but find themselves unprepared to respond to attacks from the left, attacks labeling them as hostile to promoting widespread higher education.
Instead of futilely attempting to refute such claims it would be wiser to assert that widespread college education is exactly what’s wrong with our higher education system.
The progressive flaw in understanding was revealed by the following asinine statement from the president.
“The more education you've got, the more likely you are to have a good job and work your way into the middle class,” Obama said.
Yeah, actually no.
48% of college graduates are currently working jobs that don’t require degrees.
It's the nature of our economy that progressives fail to grasp. College degrees were once valuable because they signified that the degree holder possessed a rare and specific skillset. When everyone has a four-year degree employers will look for other qualifications to identify the people they need.
Our unhealthy focus on getting a “college degree” has meant that young adults who are in no financial or academic position to attend college feel the need to do so. In short, getting a four-year degree is not a right and might even be against your interests.
The myth that success is guaranteed to individuals with a four-degree has been the motivating factor behind the drastic rise in college enrollment over the last few decades. Parents have bought into the notion that their children’s success is dependent on a Bachelor’s degree. This means many high school graduates feel pressured into college. Most never even consider vocational school which would leave them debt free and almost guaranteed a decent job.
The government’s actions over the last 70 years have helped with this problem. Pell grants and the GI Bill were introduced to make college more affordable and available to the wider population. As college enrollment increased the worth of a college degree declined. And as the government increasingly subsidized college education universities felt comfortable raising their tuition.
In his speech Obama laid out a proposal to withhold federal funds from universities which fail to lower their tuition rates to the government’s satisfaction. He said institutions of higher education need to discover innovative ways to keep costs down. This is ironic because it is the Democrats who for years have called for fixing education with increased funding.
This doesn’t mean the left is any less in favor of publicly funded higher education.
Often you will hear progressives advocate a free tuition system like that in Germany. The German’s however are smart enough to recognize that not everyone is suited for college. German children are tested before secondary school and separated into either a Gymnasium or a Hauptschule. The first prepares students for college while the latter prepares them for vocational school.
Such a system would be strongly opposed in America, but the German model is the only way a nation can hope to subsidize higher education with any degree of competence. If Americans are unwilling to follow that path then it would be best to withdraw all federal funds subsidizing college loans and universities.
My point may best be articulated by the president himself.
"Taxpayers cannot continue to subsidize higher and higher and higher costs of higher education,"