Barack Obama recently announced a plan to use taxpayer money to pay the full tuition of community college students. “Students would qualify if they attend at least halftime, maintain a 2.5 grade point average and make progress toward completing a degree or certificate program,” the Associated Press reports. This proposed program is immoral and destructive on several counts. Consider just a few.
To begin with, the program would violate the rights of taxpaying Americans who would be forced to fund the program and thus would not be able to spend that portion of their own money according to their own judgment. While one young adult might choose community college, another young adult might prefer to invest in a new business instead. Why should the second be forced to subsidize the first? Why should a young married couple who might prefer to spend their money on a new house or a Montessori preschool for their child be forced to pay someone else’s “free” tuition at a community college? Why should an older person who might prefer to put his money into a retirement fund or donate to a charity he believes in be so forced? Obama and company ignore all such pertinent questions.
Obama’s program would also unjustly discriminate against private for-profit and nonprofit career colleges—now major competitors to community colleges. These private colleges already operate under a severe competitive handicap because community colleges receive taxpayer subsidies. Obama’s scheme likely would drive some private colleges out of business.
It goes without saying that Obama’s plan would extend federal control over community colleges. As economics and logic dictate, he who pays the piper calls the tune—and Obama’s scheme would have the federal government pay 75 percent of the bill for any state that signs on. To gain the federal funds, “Participating schools would have to meet certain academic requirements,” the AP observes. Just as Common Core imposed uniform curriculum standards on K–12 schools using federal funding as the cudgel, so would the community colleges scheme impose federal controls on those schools.
Unsurprisingly, Obama’s plan is “based on a popular Tennessee program signed into law by that state’s Republican governor,” Bill Haslam, the AP reports—just as ObamaCare is based on a popular Massachusetts program signed into law by the state’s Republican governor, Mitt Romney, in 2006. Thanks, Republicans.
As history and philosophy dictate, Obama’s plan has a good chance of gathering bipartisan support because it is consistent with the widely accepted idea that people have a duty to help those in “need” and thus that education (among other things) should be “free”—meaning, paid for by taxpayers at the point of a gun. If it is moral for government to force people to finance primary schools and high schools, why should government not also force people to finance colleges? After all, many people need a college education. As the AP paraphrases, Obama said “a high school diploma is no longer enough for American workers to compete in the global economy and that a college degree is ‘the surest ticket to the middle class.’”
Americans who want to reverse the trend toward federal control of education must reject and condemn the notion that people have a duty to serve those in “need”; we must embrace and uphold the principle of individual rights, including the demonstrable fact that people have a moral right to keep and use the product of their effort as they see fit; and we must explain to all who will listen that a fully free market in education is possible, moral, and practical.