I’ve heard it time and again: “College should be free so that those who can’t afford it can attend!”
Unfortunately, those who make this claim don’t understand the economics or see the lack of logic behind their claim.
Free college would make higher education an extension of high school. Along with the massive financial undertaking by the public, free college would cause enrollment inflation leading to an over-inflation and devaluation of college degrees.
Not everyone is meant to go to college. That’s the truth. If college was free, most people would seize the opportunity, even if they were to eventually drop out. According to the Labor Department, there are about 6 million labor jobs open, which would be even more greatly ignored with greater participation in higher education.
Grade inflation already exists in high schools, which artificially pushes more students to meet the requirements for college entry. According to the College Board, over a 10-year span, the average high school grade point average increased by .26 points, while there was little to no change in SAT scores. By inflating grades, teachers are pushing students who do not truthfully merit entry into college, thus extending high school for either two or even four more years.
Now let’s move on to the finances.
Regardless of a family’s income, merit-based scholarships are available to students who are hard-working and have a well-rounded resume. Merit-based scholarships can be obtained by any student, of any race, ethnicity, class, or background. Merit scholarships are a free-market invention, based on how much effort a candidate puts in to their studies. A person’s drive and incentive to succeed doesn’t come from the government, it comes from them personally.
According to U.S. News and World Report, the free college idea would cost more than $70 billion per year, which is more than double what the government spends on Pell Grants. Additionally, a significant portion of “free college” funding would aid families who can already afford to send their kids to college, after existing Pell Grants, scholarships, and financial aid.
Free college doesn’t mean jobs. Consider this: If the rate of degrees exceeds job availability in an area, not everyone will get a job. If 10 people with the same degree apply for the same job, additional vetting factors will come into play. Employers hire employees that can create a surplus value for their company. A college degree doesn’t necessarily mean that. This would force candidates with a college degree to seek entry-level jobs, which may not be an option. Many entry-level employers have been known to reject applicants who are “over-qualified.” One example is a person with a business degree applying to work at a Starbucks.
Free college advocates assume that the only barrier between potential students and attending college is the financial portion. While this may be part of the issue, one must also consider the readiness and qualifications of the individual. If college were to be free, the quality of individuals seeking degrees would decrease and the motivation of students would decrease as well. If an individual knows he or she can attend college, regardless of effort, that individual is stripped of all incentive to work hard during high school for scholarships.
According to a report by the Heritage Foundation, “Fewer than 20 percent of students attending community college full-time for the first time complete their program within 150 percent of the time their program is supposed to take.”
When the government tries to artificially stimulate demand, there’s no incentive to lower costs, therefore, results in higher tuition prices. When the government helps pay for services, like college, then people tend to forget how much it costs in the first place. Culturally speaking, those with a college degree are considered more intelligent and ambitious than those who solely hold a high school diploma. However, expanding college to everyone would devalue college degrees, making it nothing more than an extension of high school.
Evan Sanders is a freshman at Mississippi College, majoring in International Business and Pre-Law.