Someone wiser than me confided that the secret to college is understanding that you are persevering against nothing. The only thing you are fighting is yourself as you acquire lots of debt to attend classes you will never use and study long, lonely hours while living like a pauper. If you stick with it, you get a piece of paper with very tangible rewards. You will have succeeded in the face of nothing through your own strength and perseverance. Is affordable college the same kind of endeavor, or will the federal quest to make higher education cheap also make it dumber?
Affordable college will fail to teach this lesson
Bad things happen when the Federal Government wants to make something affordable. We suffered the Making Home Affordable program when beating up on banks was mandatory social policy. For the time being we are stuck with the Affordable Care Act. Now kids and their parents are being told they have the right to affordable college. Not only do they have the right, they deserve college funding with no hitches. Will the right to affordable college fail to teach the lesson that “cheap with no strings” is never how life works? It will when government takes over.
Student Aid Bill of Rights comes with a threat
The Student Aid Bill of Rights is a new idea from the bright bulbs and field levelers who answer to our president. The government has been clamping down on student loans and is establishing a new “state-of-the-art complaint system.” Worst of all, it is gearing up to “recommend legislative and regulatory changes”1 to make higher education more affordable.
The Student Aid Bill of Rights starts out with what sounds like a threat. It’s hard to tell whether colleges or students are the targets:
Every student deserves access to a quality, affordable education at a college that’s cutting costs and increasing learning.2
Slashing costs for the middle class while improving quality is the mantra of the Obama administration. This is something government bureaucracy can never do for itself but, inexplicably, it is increasingly demanding of higher education. This will be a big problem for four-year colleges that are going to come under the gun if Democrats ever manage to turn Obama’s free community college plan into law. When they find out that employers don’t put much weight behind free government schooling that requires little better than a “C” average (see: Poor Students Learn Lesson About Being Needy), every college in the country better worry how they are going to make low income kids career-worthy. The kids better worry, too.
Not ready for college? There’s a regulation for that.
Career colleges have been threatened for not delivering and four-year schools have felt the sting of federal disapproval because of their tuition costs (see: Are Colleges the Next Government Takeover Target?). Can more bureaucracy do this for the not so well prepared?
Free community college sounds like a good ride for low income students, but the White House stance on college should make us wonder whether the result will be subjugating underprivileged kids by condemning them to the community college public option:
Too few low-income students apply to and attend colleges and universities that are the best fit for them, resulting in a high level of academic undermatch – that is, many low-income students choose a college that does not match their academic ability.3
Affordable college is only one aspect of higher education that members of our government think they can control. A different kind of student rights bill presented in 2013 tasked schools with goals completely different from Obama’s. H.R. 378 called for higher education to prepare students to “succeed academically and in life,” to “acquire the knowledge and skills necessary for responsible citizenship,” to “participate fully in the political process,” and to “be able to compete and succeed in a global economy.”4 Those are pretty lofty requests from a bureaucracy that too often seems incapable of doing anything except spending more of our money.
Bureaucracy races to higher education’s rescue
While Democrats strive in advance of the 2016 election to court students with affordable higher education, the bureaucracy that goes along with Obama’s Student Bill of Rights scheme is nothing if not elaborate. Federal agencies that will help fix America’s schools include the Department of Education, Department of the Treasury, Office of Science and Technology Policy, Office of Management and Budget, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and the Social Security Administration. Obama’s Cabinet? They’re in the mix, too.5
We know what bureaucracy does. It makes things difficult and incurs debt. We don’t need our nation’s colleges to be helped like the Affordable Care Act helped health care. Instead, students need to face reality.
Debt hurts. Students should get used to it.
We have heard the lament many times: Americans incur debt that keeps them from spending on other things. Only members of Congress who have helped rack up mind-bending public debt would make an argument like this in favor of making college affordable:
Millions of American graduates and their families are facing debilitating college debt as they look to launch a career, buy a house, get married, or save for retirement.6
Debt doesn’t prevent starting a career. It prevents spending on other things, unless it is debt held by the government.
The Department of Education echoed the sentiment about student debt:
Too many students are graduating from college feeling burdened by their student loan debt.7
There are options to being burdened by student loan debt. You can work hard enough to be at the top of your class and get a scholarship. You can skip college and take whatever job you can find. You can also bite the bullet and take out a loan. Just because something is expensive doesn’t mean the government should help you not pay for it.
Higher education doesn’t need spendthrift Washington to regulate it into cutting costs for the sake of making good on political promises. The best schools are inherently elitist and always will be. American higher education is not about mandatory equal opportunity. It is about offering equal opportunity to students who make the cut and succeed academically. That’s the way life works in America. Making college affordable for kids who can’t succeed or shunting them to schools that will accept their lesser abilities is not doing them a favor. It is marginalizing them so a politician can take credit for making college affordable instead of being honest about life choices. That’s what using government to make higher education dumber is all about: making college for the masses cheaper, easier, and ultimately of less value.