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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Should A College Education Be Free? I Vote "No".

I read a lot about the current student loan crisis, and hear many cries that a college education should be free.  I completely disagree.

Nothing of value is really free.

Not even the giving of our own time is actually "free", as it costs us, well, our time.  My fine Penn State education taught me that such a thing has an "opportunity cost".

Love isn't "free" either by the way, as it requires work...sometimes hard work...and sacrifice.  Sound familiar?

Education truly has value, and because of that it's worth paying for, it's worth sacrificing for, it's worth the investment.  Students, as in the folks who actually go to school, should be fully invested in their education.  This means they should be investing their minds and their wallets.  They should have "skin in the game", if you will, over and above simply blowing their parents money and generating profit margin for a student loan lender.

The moment you make a college education free you devalue it.  It becomes something that some feel entitled to, not because they worked for it, but because it should simply be theirs.  Do we really want to cheapen the value of higher education?

Now should an education cost the equivalent of a nice home in rural Pennsylvania?  I don't believe that it should.  The cost of an education should be something that requires sacrifice of the part of the student (and to a lessor extent their parents), but not 20 years of a financial indentured servitude to a student loan lender.  In the end, there needs to be a better balance in how we fund education, but it truly must be a "balance".  Simply saying "college should be free" diminishes the value of education, just as "20 years of crushing debt"  diminishes the prospects of some to actually obtain an education.  In order to change that balance though, I think some structural changes need to be made in American higher education.

Structural changes?  Well we need to re-focus just what higher education means in the United States.  What does, for example, having a feeder system for professional sports have to do with education?  College athletics started out as clubs of students playing games with students from other colleges, not about the development of big-league proto-professional athletes.  Time to break that cycle and get schools out of the sports business, as it's an expensive diversion.  Another cycle that must be broken is the notion of life time instructor tenure.  I'm sorry, but everyone should have to prove the value of their employment over and above simply the avoidance of getting fired in the past.  Finally, while I am as free-market as they come, I firmly disagree with the concept of "for profit" education.  Providing a college education is a service to humanity; it shouldn't be a service to investors.

I'm not pretending that simply getting rid of sports and tenure will make a college education affordable, but I am claiming that the basics of higher education need to change, from operations through how costs are passed along to students.  Our current system is simply unsustainable.  Society should encourage and share in these costs, but so too should the actual students who benefit from that education.

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