SADOW: How Many Reasons Do You Need To Fear Obama’s Free Community College Idea?

For a state that already does not efficiently use its higher education resources, Pres. Barack Obama’s proposal to throw around free community college education to all would end up particularly ruinous to Louisiana, and thereby needs rejecting.

Last week, Obama announced that he wanted the federal government to pay 75 percent of the costs to those who wished to attend these, with states picking up the other quarter of the tab. Presumably, this means that anyone who graduates high school or who obtains a General Equivalency Diploma could get a full ride as long as they took a paltry six hours of courses a semester, maintained a 2.5 GPA (at this academic level much lower means either you’re lazy or you shouldn’t be able to fog a mirror), and apparently would have several years of eligibility for this. The estimated federal government annual cost is$60 billion, and assuming the proportion of Louisiana students doing this mirrors its proportion of the national population, this could cost the state $600 million annually.

That amount alone, or over half of what the state planned to contribute to pay for its entire higher education system this fiscal year, makes it a non-starter, but there are plenty of non-fiscal reasons why this is a bad idea. Marginally negative is that it could skew into community colleges students who could develop more fully at a baccalaureate-and-above school. More negative is that it would push a greater number of marginal students into college, where few will succeed (only about a fifth complete programs as it is, although some are there for knowledge from a few specific classes), wasting taxpayer resources by having to provide more instructional resources that really aren’t needed. This also spills over to more qualified students, who, knowing that a free ride awaits them if they squeak out of high school, strive for the minimum, instead of feeling an imperative they need to produce as much quality as possible in order to earn their way at lower costs into higher education, creating more capability and return on taxpayer dollars from elementary and secondary education.

But the most compelling reason why another entitlement will backfire is this dampening extends to higher education study as well. Replicating the attitudes of some below it, doing just enough to slide by cheapens the higher education experience and uses taxpayer dollars less efficiently. One truism about the issue of subsidizing students is that the more resources they personally have at stake, the more motivation they have to maximize their performances, and this plan removes that incentive.

Naturally, there may be some with plenty of motivation in life situations where lack of funds holds them back. However, in many instances this will have come because of poor life choices they previously made: obnoxious spending habits, hastily conceived and/or poorly vetted marriage choices, having children without much life planning, etc., and it’s questionable whether taxpayers should be made responsible for making up for these unforced errors. In fact, having this program removes another incentive for people to look to the future and think carefully about decisions, knowing that they don’t have to plan carefully for the future on this because the program will bail them out if they choose poorly.

Yet some will be in tough situations to pursue college because of misfortune beyond their control, even if they made good decisions. Fortunately, many organizations outside of government exist to serve their needs, and government itself already provides aid through grants and low-cost scholarships. Similar avenues also exist for the late bloomers who want to turn their lives around, requiring no additional government involvement.

Actually, if this effort were less an attempt to buy votes and more about training for the economic future, the federal government should encourage states to embark on apprenticeship programs imported from other economically-developed countries such as in Wisconsin and Georgia. Government’s role here is to create a system to match high school upperclassmen with employers, and also can provide grants to encourage placements. This would turn out far less expensive than just allowing all comers into community and technical colleges and hope that enough finish to fill out needed jobs.

Even if, miraculously, this Democrat-inspired budget-buster would make it through a Republican-controlled Congress, Louisiana should refuse participation. Instead, its Members of Congress and state officials should petition for superior options such as apprenticeship programs. About the only thing Obama got right about this issue is that education delivery must match an economy that increasingly relies upon higher-skilled labor.

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