During the 2016 presidential primaries, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., campaigned on tuition-free education, but at least one progressive has decided to take this movement a step further. In an op-ed for the Huffington Post, contributor Zander Sherman writes that since college is work, students should get paid for it. While most millennials would jump at the idea of getting paid to attend school instead of shelling out tens of thousands of dollars for it, the concept is utterly insane.
Unsurprisingly, the writer points to a small Nordic socialist country for inspiration.
“Paid higher education is not unheard of,” Sherman argues. “Denmark gives students about $900 a month to attend college.”
He’s right that Denmark has this kind of program, but it’s actually been failing for quite a while. In the immortal words of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”
The state has had to crack down on students taking much longer than they needed to graduate, leading to student protests. The Danes use the word “fjumrear,” or the “year of goofing around,” to describe the year they might take leave or fewer courses than normal. Another Danish word, “evighedsstuderende,” refers to a person who never completes his or her studies, but continuously keeps changing majors year after year.
Rather than providing an incentive to receive workplace training, paid higher education creates a feeling of entitlement and is ripe for abuse. No one knows how to work the system better than a college student.
Regardless, Sherman believes “college should be paid because it’s hard.”
“If you don’t think that’s a good enough reason, consider another area of life where we’re expected to pay for the privilege of doing work,” he notes. “Since students didn’t make college a prerequisite for work, there’s no reason they should have to pay for it. Apprentices are paid. Many interns are now paid. Why not pay students?”
Sherman is comparing apples to oranges.
Since when does anyone get paid for taking steps toward their own self-improvement? A grueling exercise routine is hard work, but even the most devoted gym rats don’t get paid for simply honing their six-pack. No one expects the gym manager to hand over a check at the end of their workout. The rewards come from doing the work. Exercise can build confidence, improve one’s body image, and more. Apprenticeships and internships are often paid, because they benefit the employer as well as the employee.
Rather than arguing for something so insane — and expensive — critics like Sherman should be asking schools to make education more affordable and demand an end to unnecessary, expensive credential programs. He is right that college is cost-prohibitive, but other pathways to career success are available — like apprenticeships — and these opportunities are becoming more lucrative than ever before.
Brendan Pringle (@BrendanPringle) is a freelance journalist in California. He is a National Journalism Center graduate and formerly served as a development officer for Young America's Foundation at the Reagan Ranch.