Free community college?

President Obama is proposing that we, the taxpayers, pay for two years of community college for everyone who wants it and who meets relatively easy minimum requirements.  The plan would save each student, (and cost taxpayers), about $3,800 per year.  The total cost over 10 years for the estimated 9 million students for two years each would be about $60 billion.

The idea is bad for at least two reasons:

First, philosophically, under what circumstances should the force of government be used to require all taxpayers to pay for the benefit of a relative few?  We are already paying for pre-school, primary, and secondary education for all children.  We pay for health care for all of the poor, plus we subsidize health insurance for many others.  We subsidize housing, energy, and food costs for the poor.  To the extent that these things are provided for children and people who are incapable of providing for themselves, it may be morally defensible to use the force of government to require everyone to contribute.  But to the extent that we are talking about adults who have reasonably normal capability, it is not.  These kinds of policies not only weaken people’s ability to be independently responsible for their own lives, they also reinforce a belief and expectation that more government spending is the appropriate solution to every human problem.

Second, practically, why won’t a large majority of students currently bound for four year colleges want to do their first two years at a community college for free?  The projection of 9 million students might be extremely underestimated.  What happens if enrollment of freshmen and sophomores plummets in both public and private four year universities? How will they handle extreme down-sizing?

This proposal seems like a recipe for disaster.  There will be many more unintended negative consequences if we adopt such a policy.  We shouldn’t.


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