Five Reasons We Don’t Need the Bernie Sanders Free College Plan

Many pundits are praising presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, the “independent” Senator from Vermont, for his “bold” plan to make college education free—or at least affordable—for everyone:

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has proposed a formula to create free college education at public universities and finance the program through a small transaction tax on Wall Street trades. This is a powerful, wonderful and profound idea. It should . . . become a major Democratic Party initiative that should be supported by all Democratic candidates for president, included in the Democratic platform at the next Democratic National Convention and serve as a dramatic campaign pledge to elect Democratic candidates for the House and Senate in the 2016 elections.

Sanders is absolutely right. Nothing would do more to bring opportunity to young men and women throughout the nation than to make college education at public universities affordable to all. [Elizabeth] Warren is absolutely right. It is high time to end the crushing burden of student loan debt that afflicts moms and dads, and their sons or daughters, who are hard-pressed to pay back this crushing debt.

Not so much. Here’s a few reasons why:

  • Most people don’t need a college education.

The fact is that most people, unless they are joining one of the learned professions (e.g., theology, law, medicine, academia, etc.), don’t actually need a college degree. Learning a trade through apprenticeship or internship is often far more efficient than college in terms of time, practical knowledge, and work experience. More and more businesses are realizing this, and if college education becomes even more common, most employers will care even less about it, not more. Already, it means very little. It will mean even less.

  • Many people don’t want a college education.

What about those people who don’t want a college education? Surely that is a large portion of people. Subsidizing college and making college compulsory are just a few shades away from one another. We know this already from the history of public schooling. What began as a way to make schooling more affordable for “poor people” now legitimizes its own bloated budget by basically forcing people to attend.

  • Making college free for everyone will naturally reduce the value of a college education.

If you make it so just about anyone can get into college, you effectively force colleges to lower admittance standards and soften grading policies. This has already been happening. Plenty of people with college educations don’t know anything about anything. They went to college because they were supposed to go after high school. But they spent the whole time sleeping around, drinking, and smoking weed, and yet somehow they still graduated because they majored in underwater basket weaving … or environmental science. This is obviously an exaggeration. But not by as much as you might think. A college education currently means something (not as much as it once did) because not everyone has a college education. In order for everyone to acquire a college degree, something will have to give.

  • Turning college into a de facto extension of high school would further retard the development and maturation of young people in this country.

Most young people in this country are already quite slow about launching into adult life. It used to be that people were entirely finished with their education in their early teens and ready to enter the work force before they had reached their sexual peak. By the time they were in their late teens or early twenties, they were at a stage of life where marriage was a natural, viable option. If you look around today, most people aren’t getting into the workforce until their mid-twenties. They aren’t marrying until they are in their thirties, if at all. They have kids late, and only very few of them. This has disastrous social, economic, demographic, and cultural effects. Creating an even larger pool of young people who launch late is not in this country’s best interest.

  • College education is already affordable, and government-subsidized.

I’ll admit that I graduated from a public university (Georgia Tech). It was subsidized by the state in various ways to make my tuition more affordable. And, mostly because of this, I was able to graduate college with zero debt. I worked while I went to school, and my parents also helped me out. It wasn’t much of a burden because tuition ended up being less than $10,000 total. Incidentally, Georgia Tech is ranked number 2 nationally as a good “bang for buck” university.

When you talk about “crushing student loans,” you are probably talking about people who have gone to private universities, almost none of which are in the top twenty-five of good universities for ROI. Is Bernie Sanders really saying that the civil government will pay tuition to whatever private college you want to attend? No.

Think of it like this. Let’s say some senator thinks everyone should have a car provided to them by the civil government because not having a car really limits your life opportunities. Also, many people have crushing debt from their current car purchases. So he finds some guy with a crushing $200,000 note incurred by purchasing a Lamborghini. And the senator says, “That’s immoral. The civil government should deal with your debt so you can have a Lamborghini for free.”

I don’t think so. If the civil government provides free college, it will certainly be to already very affordable public universities. Which means the civil government is using private school debt as an argument for why we need to make public college more affordable. That’s stupid. Public universities are already ridiculously affordable.

Man, people need to learn to use their brains. Apparently, if Bernie Sanders is any indication, college doesn’t help all that much.