There Is No Such Thing As a Free Education


Over at The Huffington Post, Bob Samuels has a novel justification for universally free college education: it will be cheaper for everyone. Unfortunately, the magic formula of getting more for nothing doesn't work any better in higher education than it does anywhere else in reality.

First of all, the government is currently spending billions of dollars on for-profit schools and other colleges and universities that have very low graduation rates. In fact, what is going on in the state of California is that as students get priced out of the University of California, they either drop out or go to community colleges.

The argument is that if we paid for every student to go to more expensive standard bearers like UC, we wouldn't have to spend so much money sending some students to cheaper alternatives. In addition to this obvious contradiction, it also assumes that government will spend money more wisely than individuals could do on their own. It doesn't.

Not only is higher education seen as a key to economic advancement, but if all 18-24 year olds were in college, we would reduce the unemployment rate by 2 million people, and fewer people would be in need of governmental assistance.

Translation: Giving more people more expansive governmental assistance will reduce the number of people on governmental assistance. This will save money. Somehow.

Furthermore, by removing the need for students to go into debt, the government would allow graduates to be more productive, and they would have more money to spend, which in turn would act as a stimulus for the economy.

The money taxpayers would have spent instead doesn't count (because the government knows how to spend it better).

You can hardly blame Samuels for trying though, since otherwise his argument boils down to the notion that it doesn't matter how much it costs taxpayers, higher education is worth it. Celebrating universal college education as infinitely worthwhile–there is no point at which it costs too much (so long as someone else is paying for it)–is a difficult position to defend. 

Of course, even that aspiration is misguided, as we already produce far more graduates than we need.

One final thought:

While few people would now reject the idea of compulsory K-12 education, it is now time to make college universal and free.

In other words, hurry up and make this happen before people realize K-12 isn't such a great role model after all.

Reason on education here.