One of President Obama’s big plans is to Federally fund college in a way that will allow all Americans to attend, with the hope of obtaining a Bachelor’s Degree. Beyond the unsustainable economic situation that would create, and the problems it causes with regard to freedom in the country, it raises another question; one of intention. What is the purpose for such a proposal? First we should ask what the purpose of a Bachelor’s Degree is.
College degrees are used by employers to weed out individuals either not intelligent enough or not motivated enough to go through the process of attaining the degree. It’s helps to divide people into categories to assist with that vetting process, to use one of the administration’s favorite terms. A Bachelor’s degree, generally speaking, does not provide a terribly high level of expertise. That is reserved for Master’s and beyond, or else for workplace experience. It should be noted that virtually anyone of academic mind and competence has the full capacity and opportunity to attend college. All he needs is a normal GPA from High School and a decent score on the SAT or ACT. Scholarships and loans abound for such a candidate. Now that we have set our table, let us examine the original question: What is the purpose for this proposal?
If virtually everyone in America in the future has a Bachelor’s Degree, a talent-seeking employer will by necessity be forced to find alternate avenues by which he can distinguish between the competent and the incompetent candidates. What is likely to be the method by which employers now find qualified candidates? For starters many will begin wanting Master’s Degrees. Many already do. It must be noted that one area where the number of graduates has declined is in engineering, which is critical to our national defense and technological advantage in the world. Another likely side effect to this proposal is that employers will put even more emphasis on prior work experience. To some degree this is already the case. At one time a Bachelor’s virtually guaranteed a young man a job; not any more. As W. S. Gilbert the dramatist said in his comic opera The Gondoliers, “When everyone is somebody then no one’s anybody!” This is the obvious, inevitable consequence of such a policy. The individuals sympathetic to President Obama’s way of thinking are easily clever enough to see this, so I fear we must look to alternate intentions to find the true meaning of this misguided policy.
I should address a point which critics are likely to make; that is, that the proposal won’t allow more people to be qualified to go to college, it will simply pay for much of their tuition once they have been approved. This may be true at first, but who really believes that once college education has been established as a “right” that the Federal Government must protect and assist with they won’t demand better access for the poor and minorities irrespective of their capabilities or motivation. It will devolve into another Welfare system and pollute the academic environment of public universities the nation over.
If we look at the specific plan we see that Mr. Obama wants to give a “refundable” tax credit of $4,000 to students, covering all of an Associate’s Degree and most of a public Bachelor’s Degree. The word “refundable” is a word you should know if you file your own taxes or have a child in college. Of course you are probably used to seeing it’s evil twin, “non-refundable.” That’s what most actual tax-payers deal with. What “refundable” means is that you can get the money even if you don’t pay taxes. You’re a student and don’t want to work you say? Most college students who don’t have parental funding have a choice: either accept the debt of student loans in exchange for a degree that will hopefully bring prosperity later on, or put in the effort now to work while they go to school. I have known many to take each path, and almost invariably those that put in the extra work now are happier in the years to follow. Graduate school is a different game, and massive debt is virtually unavoidable there; the payoff, however, is much greater.
What will happen then? Tax dollars flow from working adults to the bureaucrats, who then send it to the public universities on behalf of the students, swelling the coffers and attendance rolls of those colleges. The public universities are already a powerful lobby in Washington and your state government. Students who grow up receiving federally funded college will certainly see it as a right, and be very resistant to any future efforts to reduce the benefits. With those benefits will come all sorts of regulations imposed by Washington bureaucrats, reducing the efficiency and effectiveness of the college, and watering down the meaning and importance of the degree. This program discourages young people from working to pay for their college. If a young person doesn’t struggle when he is young he will never learn what real value is, and never fully appreciate the things that he has in life.
If we introduce competition into the marketplace of public education using a voucher system or other method, over the protestations of the teacher’s union, we will find that more and more young people are able to enter the workforce after High School, capable and eager to earn a living and begin their adult life. By elongating the educational process we are hurting not only our economy, but our birth rates, our vitality, and our passion to succeed. Many people must go to college to learn the technical skills necessary to pursue their field of interest. Individuals who will graduate college with no skills useful to a lifelong career are too common, and demonstrate that too many of them are using college as a means of procrastination. A High School diploma used to show that you were competent for basic jobs. The fact that many employers require a university education is more a reflection on the school system than it is on any increasing technicality of the jobs available. If more people are genuinely looking to go into more difficult career fields, then there are plenty of basic jobs available for them in the meantime that can help them pay for the education they require.