Free College Turns a Degree into an Expensive Participation Medal

This election cycle, young voters are enamored with the concept of “free college.” That’s right, “free.” I am assuming those same students aspiring to higher education took a basic science class along the way and learned that matter can neither be created nor destroyed. The same principle applies to tuition. What you are not paying for, someone else is.

A common talking point for those of the free college camp is mentioning countries like Finland and France that finance the tertiary schooling of their youth. But where is the money coming from to cover costs? And what is the quality of education being received? Most free college advocates cannot answer those questions.

In Germany, school funding comes entirely from the taxpayers. This social state also has the second highest income tax burden of the thirty-four countries in the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). In 2011, the highest tax wedge in Germany was single workers without children, also known as recent college grads, paying 49.8 percent. In order to delay the government stealing half of their income from them, students prolong graduation; it’s not their own resources they’re wasting. This is such a prevalent problem that there is even a German word for it; “dauerstudenten” translates into “eternal students.”

The amount of higher education demanded increases when it is subsidized, and in turn, taxes have to increase to pay for it. We are already seeing this in the United States when we look at the divide of public and private colleges. Sixty percent of American students attend public colleges, which are generally less expensive thanks to government funding. Half of those students take longer than four years to graduate. Consider private school students paying much more for their education: 80 percent finish in four years. Paying for your own education is incentive to efficiently achieve a degree.

Furthermore, when a product is free it usually lacks quality. Those refrigerators with a “free” sign attached to them on the sidewalks of suburbia are free for a reason: they don’t work. Just as we are facing a shortage of physicians in the wake of ObamaCare bringing 30 million people into the healthcare market, we will see a shortage of professors if universal higher education is instituted. When that happens and students seek a better education they will end up paying significantly more for private colleges with superior academics on top of the major tax hike that made college “free” in the first place.

College should not be free simply because it cannot be free. Shifting the burden of tuition onto the taxpayers is not a solution. The United States cannot afford another free social program.