New York liberals recently celebrated the realization of a long-held dream: giving a free college education to anyone who wants it.
Well, not quite “free” as in nobody has to pay for it. It is one of the primary conceits of the liberal welfare state that they can refer to a taxpayer-funded benefit as “free.” Hence, we have “free” public housing, “free” food via the SNAP program, and “free” medical care for those on Medicaid.
Ah, would that it were so.
We all know that there is no such thing as “free” when it comes to government benefits. The money to pay for the goodies does not grow on a tree or even a bush. It comes out of the pockets of ordinary Americans.
So let’s refuse to play along with this fiction and look at the real costs of government-funded college tuition.
Providing students four years of tuition-free college does not mean that professors have generously decided to forgo their salaries and academic buildings now come rent-free. In fact, it does not even mean that universities have a plan to cut administrative bloat to focus more of their efforts on academics.
Indeed, offering free college to students means that someone else is now paying for it: New York taxpayers, many of whom do not hold bachelor’s degrees themselves and will likely earn less in the future than their college-going counterparts for whom they are now footing the bill.
Recent history has shown that removing any financial responsibility from the student to pay for their degree does more harm than good. Economists have found that virtually unrestricted access to federal student aid encourages colleges and universities to raise their tuition prices.
When universities are not directly accountable for their prices to consumers, tuition can gradually increase without jeopardizing the loss of significant numbers of students. However, American taxpayers feel this tuition increase quite a bit when students default on their loans.
The proposed budget plan for New York couples the state taxpayer-funded grants with federal Pell Grants, which has been shown to increase tuition as much as 40 cents on the dollar.
Creating a state grant for higher education, coupled with federal grants, will likely lead to further increases in the cost of higher education. The program is slated to be phased in over three years and is expected to cost taxpayers $163 million in the first year.
What about the effect on private colleges? There is little doubt that many private schools will see a falloff in enrollment. This will be true even though the plan includes an increase in funding for them as well. There is just no competing with schools that offer tuition paid for by the government.
Ultimately, costs for the program are likely to spiral out of control:
Overall, New York’s tuition-free plan puts taxpayers on the hook for college costs that will only go up. Setting this plan in motion with nothing in place to put downward pressure on costs is fiscally irresponsible.
The taxpayer-funded tuition program advances the myth — encouraged by the higher education establishment — that only attendance and graduation from a four-year college will lead to success in life. It may have been true at one time — about 40 years ago. But today, with a highly specialized job market demanding highly specialized knowledge and education, it’s a frivolous expense for many.
Yes, but what about the college “experience”? The opportunity for a young adult to get away from home, be exposed to different ideas and different people, and explore what interests them intellectually used to be of enormous value to the maturation process. But since today’s colleges almost without exception infantilize students to the point that they are helpless children to be protected and shielded from new ideas and different perspectives, most 18-year-old kids could do without that “experience.”
But it’s “free,” right?