In the latest episode of “let’s see how much we can blow out the debt,” President Joe Biden has pushed the deficit as close as possible to the limits of fiscal sanity. In late April, he announced the American Families Plan, which the White House touts as “an investment in our kids, our families, and our economic future.”
One of the areas that Biden’s bank-breaking $2 trillion plan seeks to address is education. Specifically, the measures would provide “free” community college education for first-time students or Americans looking for a career change. However, a closer look shows this particular idea might not be all it’s cracked up to be.
Biden’s Free College Plan
The president’s plan to provide free community college education is ostensibly intended to increase the number of college-educated Americans who can fill jobs requiring a degree. The Wall Street Journal reported: “His proposal—unveiled in April as part of his $1.8 trillion American Families Plan—would waive tuition for two years of public community college. It would also provide many students more cash to cover living expenses that often deter students from lower-income families from attending.”
The Biden administration claims that pouring more funding into community colleges will result in an increase in Americans attending higher education and obtaining the skills necessary to land high-paying jobs. This would supposedly lead to their boosted incomes and economic benefits for the United States.
However, Republicans and even some on the left are not so optimistic about Biden’s plan, noting that throwing more money at the situation will not deal with the entrenched issues in the nation’s education system.
What’s the Problem?
Proponents of “free” college point to the myriad of issues that make it difficult for Americans to obtain the higher education they desire. Everyone’s favorite socialist uncle, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), often pointed out these problems during his campaigns for the presidency. In particular, he noted that the ballooning cost of tuition has placed many students in seemingly insurmountable debt and prevented others from earning a degree.
From The Journal:
“Indeed, inflation-adjusted data provided by the College Board shows that the average sticker price of higher-education tuition (excluding room and board) over the past ten years has increased 32 percent for two-year public colleges, 37 percent for four-year public colleges, and 26 percent for four-year private nonprofit colleges. In contrast, student financial aid has remained virtually flat. To cover rising costs, families have become increasingly dependent on increased institutional aid and student loans. At present, the combined average annual borrowing for undergraduate students and their parents is nearly $22,500 per year.”
The Flaws in the ‘Free College’ Movement
While it is undeniable that America’s higher education system is riddled with problematic issues, so-called progressives pushing for free college seem to be missing serious weaknesses in their arguments. The fact is that community colleges do not seem to be worthy investments for this amount of funding due to their constant underperformance when it comes to helping students obtain a degree.
National Review explained:
“According to a recent study by Indiana University, only 30 percent of community-college students completed their two-year program within six years, and only 7.7 percent completed a bachelor’s degree at a four-year institution within a six-year timeframe. More significantly, almost half of all first-time community-college students — 47.3 percent — stopped attending without earning any type of degree. Granted, the results are slightly better among community-college students who enroll full-time and thus are presumably more committed to their studies; but even among these students, fewer than half completed a two-year program in six years’ time.”
Biden’s plan would rely on states pitching in about $1 for every $3 paid by the federal government. This will prove to be tricky if the states do not go along with this strategy.
Republican New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu isn’t a fan of the “free” college idea. He told The Wall Street Journal that making higher education free would accomplish nothing more than giving the federal government more control over the system.
“If you go down a path where the federal government is paying the bulk of the costs, you’re really telling the federal government that they now control the system,” he said, adding that students with “skin in the game” would be more devoted to their studies.
The data seem to bolster Sununu’s argument. The Manhattan Institute confirmed:
“International comparisons render as dubious the assumption that free tuition in the U.S. would lead to higher numbers of college graduates. Within the G-7, the four countries that charge college tuition have higher education attainment rates (Japan, 59%; Canada, 58%; United Kingdom, 48%; United States, 46%) than those that don’t (France, 44%; Germany, 28%; Italy, 24%).”
Far-leftists often sing the praises of European nations who provide free tuition to their citizens. But after being weighed, this giveaway seems to have been found wanting. New York’s attempt to enact a similar program also crashed and burned.
The primary issue with colleges is the high dropout rates. Biden’s plan to hurl more cash at these institutions will not address that problem. Sandy Baum, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, expressed this sentiment in a conversation with The Wall Street Journal.
“The biggest barrier is not that [students] needed another $1,000,” she said. “The biggest barrier is they’re totally unprepared to do college-level work.”
For the record, the Urban Institute is a left-leaning think tank, not exactly a bastion of conservative thought.
What’s the Real Motive?
In light of the glaring shortcomings of the community college system, one might wonder why the Biden administration and other high-profile progressives would push for covering the cost of an education system that is clearly failing many American students. Indeed, nowhere in the president’s plan does he indicate how he would address these issues.
Perhaps this is yet another example of “feel good” policies that allow Democratic politicians to claim they are doing something when, in reality, they are not even coming close to fixing the problem. This proposition is like trying to curb police brutality by painting Black Lives Matter murals on the street. In the end, this initiative will spend tons of money on a whole lot of nothing.
Read more from Jeff Charles.