By JOHN BUTERBAUGH
Education is not an entitlement program for the student. It is an empowerment program for society. The G.I. Bill guaranteed free higher education to World War II veterans due to worries that another recession could take place. America needed to increase its human capital by giving people the opportunity to go to college. This was not a hand out. It was an investment in our country’s future. Millions of veterans took advantage of a college education and many more took part in training programs. As a result, it ended up being a huge success.
For most others, college has only become more expensive. From 1975 to 2015, the combined cost of college tuition, fees, and boarding has risen 150% at public colleges and 170% at private colleges. In that time, the share of college-educated 25- to 29-year-olds only grew by 53%. According to a Georgetown survey, 35% of job openings in 2020 will require at least a Bachelor’s degree and 30% will require at least some college. Clearly, not everyone will need to go to college. Trade school diplomas and even high school vocational diplomas will often be sufficient to enter the middle class. However, we need to provide educational opportunities to potential electricians in order for that service to be provided. However, a liberal arts education provides a different set of skills — learning how to think and discovering what we truly value.
Additionally, having 71% of four-year college students in debt is not only a detriment to themselves but also to the economy. Instead of investing in companies or buying goods or services, students instead must pay off student loan debt, which on average, takes 21 years. They often take up part-time jobs to pay off their debt, which takes away jobs from those who are not college educated. When college-educated individuals enter into professional jobs, the non-professional labor force shrinks, resulting in job openings and often increased wages in that sector. The multiplier effect of a college-educated society is simply too good to reject.
I’d like to reiterate that providing free higher education is not a handout; it’s an opportunity to improve the surrounding community. The reward that students get for hard work and good grades in college does not come in the form of disposable income until they get a job. You cannot get a degree unless you attain a certain grade. A survey at 200 schools indicated that 40% of grades were A’s. Many professors want their students to receive high marks to get a leg up in the job market. In some instances, however, students need to attain at least an A or a B or a C in every course to remain in a program. If a professor gives a student a B-, that student may lose a scholarship or drop out of a program altogether. The institution understands that grade inflation is often necessary to keep students paying into the tuition system. However, as a result, a student often puts in less effort to attain higher grades. If one contends that people should work for what they have and not have it handed to them, then he or she should be against grade inflation as well. A government-financed, but not government-run, higher education system could partly address this issue.
To finance this system, the government will indeed need to implement new taxes. According to Bernie Sanders’ plan, the federal government will levy a tax on Wall Street speculation, stocks, bonds, and derivatives, and not much on the incomes of most Americans. This is poetic justice. Currently, the top 0.1% controls as much wealth as 90% of Americans, but the wealthiest Americans spend very little of it — maybe 5% to 10% of their income. Meanwhile, the bottom 90% spends most of their money.
To imagine what impact that has on the economy, imagine you’re a CEO or if you’re an average Joe. On how many pillows do you personally need to rest? The answer — most likely 1 or 2 — is not terribly different from person to person. A rich man can afford to save more money because he has more money while others may not. A college education would open more Americans to jobs with higher incomes meaning that Americans have the ability to spend more on the economy. We don’t have to worry about raising the national debt from providing free college tuition. When we invest in college, we are investing in a workforce that can make higher incomes. This in turn creates more job creators and raises tax revenues. In a sense, “free” college education pays for itself, and the benefits for society are immense.