As a current college student, I’ve kept close tabs on the student loans/tuition debate.
As a fairly indebted college student, I’ve even wished for the easiest way out of my obligations at the least-possible immediate cost to me.
But then I remember that this is the thinking common to millions of my fellow college students—a desire for instant gratification, and disregard the long-term consequences or the precedent it sets. This is why big government and its progressive saviors cater to us. And this is why we vote for them in droves.
The proof of this grand illusion lies with the people who, thinking they’re doing me a favor, call for MORE government intervention into higher education. Not just the power to set interest rates on loans, but the power to set tuition directly and, in some cases, the ultimate goal of making college universally free.
Now, of course, college can never be “free.” We’d pay for it with much higher taxes. But I’ll describe a more potent problem with this progressive pipe dream.
At the forefront of this crisis is an unfortunate and long-running trend. College is becoming as obligatory a phase of life as high school. Very few American seventeen-year-olds ever pause to consider the merits of inventor, apprentice, or entrepreneur. They’re not taught to (but I give Peter Thiel credit for trying). Even Bill Maher, the leftist pundit, has noted the problem of too many kids going to college: “Everybody wants to be in the show, and nobody wants to be in the audience.” If everyone succeeds by the same standard, then no one does.
So the dreadful scenario I submit is this: Once college becomes a public good like high school–you know, all-inclusive and “free”–an expansion of students will have to follow it up with graduate school in order to “get ahead of the pack.” This will shift new, unprecedented popularity to grad school, which will be followed by greater demands to grease the wheels at that level as well.
At that point, students who wish to distinguish themselves in a competitive economy would, once again, need to pursue an even more advanced degree–giving up an additional handful of years they could spend creating a family or starting their own business. The entitlement curse would eventually cloister this uber-grad school as well, while the degrees get increasingly pedantic.
Now repeat this cycle indefinitely, or until future generations are all getting “educated” well past their retirement years and just in time to die. Represented graphically (above), this relationship would resemble an asymptote–that is, everyone approaches employment at an infinitely decreasing rate without ever actually entering the workforce. And by staying out (or being kept out) of the workforce, they contribute little or no useful product to society, unless you decide to count the tax dollars taken from other people to sustain this lumbering monster of an education bubble even while it continues to flatten us all. (And by the way, Social Security rolls on unabated.)
Such is my disturbance with this “free,” or otherwise interventionist, education-obsessed society.
It’s all well and good to complain about the problems, you say, but what about solutions?
Well, see part 2.