President Biden’s proposal to provide free, taxpayer-funded community college tuition sounds great at first glance.
After all, what reasonable person could be opposed to encouraging education, particularly for the nation’s youth and economically disadvantaged?
The reality, however, is that the proposal represents great potential for being a very expensive failure, seemingly more related to political pandering than to a bona fide educational benefit.
It throws tax money at everyone.
There already exists a variety of programs for many but not all highly motivated students to procure educational tuition assistance, including military service and opportunities for loan forgiveness for successful students who agree to perform service in educational, healthcare and public service jobs, especially in underserved communities.
The president’s proposal might seem more appealing if tied to a requirement that participants actually complete a community college program as a condition of student loan forgiveness, and that the selected degree program encompass skill development in fields where there is a workforce need.
Without conditions, there is the likelihood that huge numbers of students will, as now, incur huge educational debt without completing a degree, or will work toward degrees in areas like fine or liberal arts which, although educational, simply too often fail to lead to employment with lifestyle supporting incomes.
Of course, individuals should have educational freedom and choice, but there is merit to the argument that taxpayers should not be liable for tuition bills for training that, more often than not, leads to a hobby and not to a viable career.
Moreover, why should taxpayers fund community college education for students from families with high incomes where there is no demonstrated economic need?
High-income earners already have access to a variety of tax-saving deductions and schemes.
They often can afford the costliest university educations.
There is a need for increased national educational funding, but the need seems greatest at the local level where underfunded school districts lack the resources needed to prepare too many students for jobs and higher education following high school.
Rural students are especially affected since they often come from families with lower incomes than enjoyed by urban and suburban families and attend smaller high schools frequently lacking resources to take full advantage of technology and to prepare students for the expectations and rigors of university and vocational education.
It seems wiser to fund these unmet needs rather than to throw billions of scarce tax dollars at a free-for-all community college fund-fest.