Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Free College? TANSTAAFL, buddy.

Some political candidates these days are suggesting that, like certain European countries, we should make college "free" to students. That idea's been around for a while, the MOOC and Open University concepts have been floating around higher ed for years. While the concept may eventually be made workable, something that becomes obvious even from a casual inspection is that all this 'free' education is not free.

The cost burden has simply been shifted from the students to others. Usually, that other group is you and me, the tax-payers. If the current candidates get their way (a big if, I say) it will be no different. Federal money (all of which it gets from us) poured in 50-gallon drums into the pockets of universities still has to come from somewhere. 

Here's another thing, too. 

What happens to a thing when you make it free?  The people who have access to the thing conclude that you now believe that the thing is of little or no inherent value. If the holder/creator of a thing thinks it valuable, that person will sell it to you - exchange value for value. This is, with almost no exception, the way humankind has operated since the days of barter.

When you take something formerly of value and declare it to be free, you are in effect stating that it is no longer of value.

A thing that is of no value to the giver, is of little to no value to the receiver. Please explain to me how much the typical student enrolled in our 'free' and compulsory education system value the experience they are required to have.

I look at college students at my own school and note how many of them are more interested in their hobbies and parties and smart phones than they are in the incredibly expensive undertaking in which they find themselves. It was the same when I was in school myself - many acted as though going to class and getting an education was the last thing on their minds.

So don't make college free!  Make it less expensive (I've my own theories on that) but not free.

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