Cheap Education … For Free

by | Jan 30, 2015 | Education

Government freebies foster mediocre education — and expensive mediocre education, at that.

During the State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Obama proposed a plan to offer two years of free community college to U.S. students, according to The Huffington Post.

Free college! Yay, Obama! How did we get so lucky to find such a wise and benevolent ruler who makes life so much easier for all?

The premise of this proposal, of course, is that college is a birthright. Two free years of community college is merely a first step to free college for everyone, paid for by others — oh, excuse me, paid for by the government. Even if that’s not the plan, it’s the idea implied by the plan. College is now a right, just like nearly everything else.

Do people who support this proposal understand that by making something a right or an entitlement, you cheapen it? We see what federalizing and nationalizing education did to high school. It made high school education relatively worthless — which is why college is now a much more desperately needed credential than it used to be. If public schools can’t or won’t teach young people how to rationally think, you can’t blame the intelligent ones for rushing to college to learn how to do so.

On our current path, we will eventually make four years of college free. And then, I suppose, we’ll make graduate school free. Maybe even medical and law school, who knows?

It may sound sarcastic or absurd, but this is precisely what the idea of “college is a right” will lead to, if followed out with any consistency in practice. Because the more we make college accessible to anybody who wants it, the less worthwhile it will be.

I recognize that college is increasingly unaffordable to more and more people. But nobody seems to question the government’s role in creating this situation. For example, by intervening in the student loan marketplace, making it so easy for students to get loans, the government has made it easier for colleges to keep raising their prices. The more government makes college accessible to students by intervening in what should have been a private marketplace for education, the more expensive the government makes it.

Government creates artificial demand for a product or service when it makes it more “accessible” via manipulation of the marketplace. “Artificial” demand refers to people who utilize a product or service who otherwise would not have done so. “Well, it’s free. I might as well utilize this service.” You have greater demand, which tends to devalue people’s appreciation of the product or service, while inflating its price in the for-profit area of the activity still permitted.

It’s an endless cycle, and Obama’s community college freebies will do nothing to alter it. It’s like putting scotch tape on a leak in the sinking Titanic, while still ignoring the other leaks. Even if you get your two years of college for free, you’ll want to complete your education in a four year university, and possibly pursue graduate or medical/law school. What then? Thanks to government inflating the demand for college, tuition will be even higher still.

Hmmm…this sounds a lot like what happened in the field of medicine and health insurance, doesn’t it? The more government intervenes to make things cheaper (or free), the more expensive everything becomes.

Government should get out of the marketplace, so prices can stabilize and be set by supply and demand — that is, by actual people/consumers rather than arbitrary government edicts whose purpose isn’t to educate but simply provide more power to the government. I realize that’s not going to happen. So in that context, Obama’s freebie plan makes a limited amount of pseudo-sense. Of course, only if you ignore the fact that people who are currently paying off their loans will now have to pay additional taxes to support the free tuition for others. How are they supposed to feel? Obama and his ilk are all about “social justice” and what they call “equity.” How equitable and fair is it to force people who paid their tuition dues to now pay for others? Only a tiny number of them are “rich,” so even if we accept the premise that “the rich” have no moral right to their earnings, that still leaves a whole lot of other people who justifiably feel cheated.

Government freebies foster mediocre education — and expensive mediocre education, at that. With or without Obama’s unjust and economically ridiculous proposal, college tuition will continue to skyrocket and will eventually price itself out of the market. We’ll be left with one-size-fits-all education totally funded by the government … and it won’t be worth a nickel.

Dr. Michael Hurd is a psychotherapist, columnist and author of "Bad Therapy, Good Therapy (And How to Tell the Difference)" and "Grow Up America!" Visit his website at:

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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