Close your eyes. Try to remember yourself as a 4- or 5-year-old, just beginning to question the way things are, but not able to fully grasp inescapable realities such as wealth inequality, racial tension and debt. Some of our most inquisitive moments belong to the “good old days” before school, work and bills to pay.
I think specifically of a humid summer day in my younger years, walking to the community pool with my parents. Turning to my mom, I asked, “Wouldn’t it be great if everything costed one penny?” It depends who you are. Consumers would love to pay one cent for products from a bar of chocolate to a gallon of gasoline. Meanwhile, producers would close their doors because they couldn’t cover costs.
From this same juvenile train of logic, the political left suggests providing “free” goods and services, a long-running message amplified as of late by self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist and presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders. From a single-payer healthcare system to paid family leave, Sanders’s platform promises a high, equitable standard of living on the government's dime with few sincere considerations for the current economic situation or potential fallout from these utopian plans.
The issue of student debt is relevant for students considering college and painfully apparent to college graduates across this nation. The Institute for College Access and Success claims the average graduate is burdened with $29,400 of debt, a major problem when the average degree-holding worker earns just shy of $49,000 per year, a sum needed to make payments on a car, a home, insurance, food, medical bills and any incidentals, often forcing the interest on these loans to dwarf the principle itself. Politicians on both sides of the aisle agree: rising tuition and the resulting debt situation is a formidable problem.
Bernie Sanders suggests the solution is “free” tuition at public universities. Putting aside more egregious fallacies related to this policy suggestion, this policy is simply anti-private school. By providing free tuition at public schools, Sanders’s big-government administration would create perverse incentives to forgo private education for public colleges, creating the university equivalent of government boomtowns. The resulting private college exodus would mean higher tuition costs at those institutions, further thinning enrollment and hurting local economies in towns like Valparaiso, which rely on their private college population to help drive the economy and keep local businesses in the black.
Private-public equity aside, Sen. Sanders’s rhetoric focuses on equality of educational attainment, while neglecting budgetary realities, the value of vocational diversity and inconvenient truths about higher education domestically and abroad.
The country cannot afford Sanders’s education policy and Democrats have said so. When facing sequester in 2013, then house minority leader Nancy Pelosi denied the ability to cut the budget, saying, “the cupboard is bare.” If national finances are in such dire straights, how does the national government provide for an extra $725 billion worth of spending for “free” tuition? The easy answer is a responsible government can’t.
Pushing this cost to the state level would be catastrophic. According to the Illinois Policy Institute, over half of state school tuition dollars go to teacher pensions. Under a Sanders administration students graduate debt free, but the government picks up their tab and continues to pay the state’s share of teacher pensions, an amount of money sure to increase as public universities are forced to hire more professors.
At a rally on Feb. 22, Sanders claimed to stand for the American worker, an attack against Democrat contender Hillary Clinton who he believes puts “special interests” above the welfar
e of the average American. The height of hypocrisy, Sanders’s higher education agenda replaces the uniqueness of individual workers with the abstract concept of intellectual equality. It also assumes the majority of high school grads need college to be successful when, in fact, some prefer work in the trades or in service jobs, where their passions and giftedness connect with training of a different sort.
Flooding the market with more bachelor's degrees will increase unemployment. An abundance of degrees cheapens the value of said certificates. A market flooded with fledgling lawyers, social workers or scientific researchers means lower pay. Success in terms of enrollment means economic equality in the form of a population racing toward poverty.
Sanders likes to belittle American education. NPR’s fact checkers, however, find the country’s is the “ninth-most-educated workforce in the world.” Sanders claims other developed economies have better rates of degrees per capita, which is true, but says this necessitates free public school tuition. Unfortunately, the three bastions of higher education, South Korea, Japan and Canada, charge tuition at public universities, with costs comparable to their domestic counterparts.
The only presidential candidate in our nation’s history to honeymoon in the USSR seems blissfully ignorant of the American proverb “there's no such thing as a free lunch.” A simple cost benefit analysis weighs and measures Sen. Sanders’s europhilic educational idealism and finds it wanting. While pleasant in its sophomoric naiveté, a scheme to fully fund higher education with an already-bloated federal budget most resembles the dreams of a child.
St. Paul writes, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” When it comes to higher education, it is high time we gave up our childish ways and searched for real solutions.