Another appeal for an even nannier state

I’m so tired of nanny-staters I could spit . . . but they keep coming out of the woodwork. The latest is Lester Spence, who writes at CNN:

My View: Why not a right to a college education?

Editor’s Note: Lester K. Spence is an Assistant Professor of Political Science and Africana Studies at Johns Hopkins University. His first book Stare in the Darkness: The Limits of Hip-hop and Black Politics was published in June 2011, and was one of the first books to empirically examine the political effect of hip-hop on black communities.

. . .

What if … the president … proposed policies geared towards embedding higher education as an individual right. What if, instead of getting a tax write-off after you’ve already paid your son/daughter’s tuition, you instead didn’t have to worry about education because the government would pay for it?

It’s socialism!

It’s too expensive!

I want to take the socialism critique first. The reality is that even here we routinely spend a significant amount of our government’s resources on subsidies, on what tea party supporters might call “socialist policies.” For instance, in 2009 the government spent almost $86 billion on home ownership subsidies in the form of the mortgage interest deduction, subsidizing the home purchases of almost 35 million citizens. In 2010 the government spent almost $104 billion.

Furthermore, as the president noted in the State of the Union address, the federal government routinely spends billions of dollars in corporate subsidies, helping them research and develop new products, helping them build new plants, helping them train new workers. If we wouldn’t think of these policies as socialist, why should we necessarily consider a policy to pay for college tuition socialist?

The second critique is a bit more thoughtful. If tuition and fees are too expensive for parents, wouldn’t placing this burden on the government be exorbitantly expensive, too expensive to even consider?

As of 2004 it would have cost approximately $30 billion to pay for the tuition and fees of everyone currently attending a public college, whether that college be four-year like the University of Michigan, or two-year, like neighboring Washtenaw Community College. Even if we double that figure now due to inflation, we’re still talking about spending less money on college tuition for every student able to get into college, than we routinely do to subsidize home purchases.

Such a policy for me is a no-brainer. It significantly reduces the financial burden on parents and on students. No longer would a father and mother have to consider taking a second mortgage on their home or perhaps a second job to put their child through school. No longer would three college roommates have to have eight jobs between them (as my roommates and myself did in 1990). President Obama didn’t mention working class or poor parents at all – no longer would college be out of reach for much of the 99%.

There’s more at the link.

Where does one start?

  • I don’t care how much the federal government is spending on subsidies to encourage home ownership or corporate development. I see nothing whatsoever in the constitution authorizing such subsidies in the first place! Why should there be even more unconstitutional subsidies for yet another unconstitutional so-called ‘right’?
  • So what if it would ‘only’ cost $30 billion, or $60 billion, to pay for all college-level education each year? Why should taxpayers have to bear that burden in the first place? Besides, the US is technically bankrupt, already $15 trillion in debt and adding over $1½ trillion more every year. Where are we going to find the money when we can’t even afford our existing programs?
  • Why shouldn’t college be out of reach for many people? What is it about college that’s so magical? Look at the statistics. US News pointed out in 2009: “Thirty percent of college and university students drop out after their first year. Half never graduate, and college completion rates in the United States have been stalled for more than three decades.” That’s a huge chunk of those proposed subsidies that would be thrown away, every year. Why the hell should my taxes be wasted in that way? Of those who graduate, how many have useless degrees in subjects such as ‘gender studies’ or ‘underwater basket-weaving’? I see no reason whatsoever to subsidize such wastes of time!
  • Why demand yet another government program? The government’s already way too big for its boots, and has busted out far beyond its constitutional limitations. We need to be shrinking government, not expanding the damn thing!

I’m afraid I have to write off Prof. Spence’s views as yet another example of academic moonbattery. Sadly, there are far too many who’ll read them and ask themselves, “Why not?” – forgetting that, as always, someone else has to pay for their ‘good’ ideas! TANSTAAFL, as the late, great Robert A. Heinlein warned us . . . but some have never learned (or refuse to learn) that lesson.



  1. If people can't afford college then colleges don't need professors and the esteemed Prof. Spence might need to look for a job. But if colleges have 'unlimited' sources of students and their tuition, courtesy of Uncle Sam, then Prof. Spence can get a big pay raise. Of COURSE he would like this plan!
    Glenmore of Louisiana

  2. We do not need more college graduates. We need more skilled trades graduates and more people who graduate High School able to read, write and cipher! Then we can talk about the college tuition mess (which was aided and abetted by the feds in the first place!)

    No, this is not a hot-button item for me, why?


  3. Well, first, look at this guys "specialty." This is the sort of thing we are over run with-useless claptrap.
    Next , realize he has not a clue about the difference between a 'credential" and an "education".
    Third, recall the truism, "if you want more of something, subsidize it".
    The conclusion I come up with is that were this guys dream enacted fully, what we would end up with, is a whole new legion of poorly schooled, degree'd idiots competing for jobs beyond their skill levels or intellect , with the proviso that since now everyone, qualified or not, has the same piece of paper to wave around, they would have essentially made the degree worthless for those who DID achieve academic success. So now all those grads would need to go to grad school to differentiate themselves from the losers. Then the cycle would start again, as no doubt he would advocate for free grad school for everyone.
    The man misses the central point-the purpose of college is not to make everyone equal- it is to SEPARATE the ones who excel from the average.
    This sort of stuff makes me weep for our republic. Our laws are not sufficient to govern a nation of fools.

  4. You a diver by any chance Peter? Underwater basket-weaving is an old PADI joke about their specialty courses. (I'm a PADI instructor).

    I'll give you one good reason to subsidize schools though: equal opportunity for education, regardless of parents. It's one of the things that truly give those coming from empoverished backgrounds a chance to better their lot in life, at least those with some motivation and drive. A solid education gets them out of the ghettos, and trailer parks, the alternative is often minimum wage or crime.

    I'm in favor of giving everyone a chance, according to their ability(you still have to pass entrance requirements, which likely will rise if this was implemented, with more people jockying for the same slots, which means a higher quality of graduates, making the degree more valuable, and gives american companies access to better workers, which boosts their ability to compete, and so on).

    Mind you I'm from sweden, with subsidized schools, and our taxes aren't really that much higher than yours anymore, we still manage to have a balanced budget, with a deficit under 3% and debt under 15% of GDP.

  5. Coincidentally, Richard Fernandez, over at The Belmont Club, has a post on this very topic now with the usual collection of articulate comments.

  6. As someone who came from a family that could not afford to put me through college, I guarantee that no one in this country that can do the work and wants to go to college can't go. College is not out of reach for the 99%, only those who don't try to go. There are innumerable options, but they require work and not just having your way paid for free.

    There have been many studies that show that educational achievement is completely independent of the amount spent, the student to teacher ratio, or any of the usual nonsense moonbats like this want to spend money on.

    Society doesn't need people with degrees, society needs people with skills – that know how to do something.

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