The main argument Governor Cuomo makes for tuition-free college is that it prepares the workforce of the state for the future. It is quite clear that automation and outsourcing has put pressure on American workers to seek employment outside of manufacturing. More and more jobs will require college degrees. However, what this bill doesn’t do is combat rising student loan interest rates that can keep students in debt for decades. Sure, it helps prevent debt. Yet for many New Yorkers, this bill comes far too late. College graduates who are in debt now will still be unable to renegotiate their student loan interest rates. College students will continue to have to pay for room and board which is becoming more expensive.
This bill also doesn’t seem to acknowledge a very large group of people – blue-collar workers. The state government and society often claim that college is the way to go. It often seems it is the only way to go. However, for many workers, college is irrelevant and a waste of time. It doesn’t achieve their goals. This comes at a time when many trades cannot be outsourced. You can’t, for example, send a bridge to China for a worker there to weld it. It’s impractical. Welding is an insanely high-demand job. We place a lot of emphasis on education, but where is the leadership for training people for these jobs?
Governor Cuomo realizes that his plan doesn’t help a lot of people. He even calls his plan a “fight for the middle class.” It doesn’t provide free tuition to wealthier families who should be able to foot the bill themselves. But, what about the working poor? What about concerns about dwindling social mobility in our post-industrial economy? What about the fact that there continue to be people who work long hours every week and still cannot make ends meet? My qualms over this bill are not related to the residency requirement after receiving the tuition scholarship. This requirement is pragmatic in that it aims to make a return on its investment through taxation of graduates’ income. Plus, 80% of graduates in New York state stay anyway. My real issue with this bill is that it does not address key concerns facing working-class New Yorkers. They will also be paying the taxes that support the ability of young middle-class Americans to remain in the middle class.
My hope is that this bill, despite its imperfections, shines a lot on our true intentions when it comes to bettering our society. My hope is that low-income high school students will have more of a reason to graduate high school so that they can go to community college or a four-year program. Many students give up because high school diplomas aren’t good enough for most jobs, and they couldn’t afford college anyway. However, we can’t always predict future decisions. Humans are irrational beings after all. Despite all this, I support this bill because it is leadership in the right direction. It understands that education is not an entitlement program but rather an empowerment program. We invest in students so that they have the skills and power to improve our society. I pray that this actually happens, and if the program fails to deliver improved outcomes, we must be mature enough and courageous enough to demand some changes.
PATRICK WOOD: Well said, John. The bill isn’t perfect, and leaves a lot of issues unaddressed, but before delving into that, I think it’s important to celebrate this monumental step forward. After many of our peer nations offered free 4-year university for citizens (and in the case of Germany, even non-citizens), the USA finally has a state that has gotten its priorities straight and offered the same. Hopefully this gives credence to a movement and the momentum of the free college movement spreads. I absolutely agree that we are continuing to overlook the great value of vocational schools.
Unfortunately, most bachelors degrees are worth less than they used to be in terms of relative earning potential and the proportion of graduates who find work in their fields quickly. Those who know they don’t want to pursue a STEM field or a graduate program may actually be in a better position having taken a couple years to learn a trade than the person who spent four years getting a bachelor’s degree. There will always be a need for mechanics, beauticians, plumbers, electricians, and other specialized services – it’s a wrongheaded approach to push high school graduates away from these careers.
JOHN: I think one possibility is that it might open up unintended consequences. If a lot of students go for the scholarship, it might make the value of their degree lower than before. This is because job markets are competitive in that you must be “more qualified” than another person. Social sciences have a lot of students, but you need even more education to stand out because an undergraduate degree is simply not enough in most cases. For a political science major, you might need to get a law degree. Most psychology students will need postgraduate education, maybe for research, therapy, or a school psychologist.
We know automation is happening and we know outsourcing is happening. I definitely believe that we should promote professions or vocations that are the least prone to those happening. We need to prepare students for a world that has less routine skills and more critical thinking and creativity. Instead, in many cases, we are teaching students to simply accept information and not challenge it. This is setting them up for failure. If not failure, we set them up for a career where they only have to accept orders. In many cases, this is law enforcement and the military.
PATRICK: I’m not a great person to ask, but I think part of the value of school is keeping kids safe while they are attending.