It seems that all of the Democrat candidates for president are attempting to bribe young voters and their parents by offering “free” college for all. Of course, as any economist worth his salt would tell you, there is no such thing as free college. Taxpayers will pay additional taxes to cover the cost of students attending college. And a substantial amount of additional tax revenue will be necessary to fund college for all. Bernie Sanders’ own campaign puts the estimated cost at $70 Billion dollars. This is a low estimate given that there are about 20 million college students in the US. If you do some quick arithmetic, that’s only $3,500 per student. Since in-state tuition at public schools averages $9,716, public school out of state tuition is $21,629, and private college tuition is $35,676, it is evident that Sanders and his co-candidates need to be sent back to school. Just in-state public college tuition for all would be over $200 billion each year. But not everyone goes to a state school in their own state. And, the real costs of college are far more than tuition and fees.
Based on the statistics above, it looks like “free college” is probably just a scam. It will not be free at all despite higher taxes. But suppose Sanders and the others could deliver what they promise. Admittedly, free education sounds good. If we included vocational education as well as college, it would have a certain value for society for everyone to get the training and education they need to hold down a job as a skilled worker. College used to be about learning the basic knowledge needed for being a free person. These courses were called the “artes liberalis” or “liberal arts.” I prefer a more modern translation of the Medieval Latin—“the arts of free peoples.” If everyone who went to college learned the arts of free peoples so they could be effective citizens and informed voters, college for all might really produce results that would make it worthwhile. It might even be worth the massive tax increase. But sadly, real “free college education for all” will not be like that.
In my experience with students and faculty from across the nation, higher education at both public and private schools has become so politicized, so left wing, and so postmodern, that almost no one actually educates students in the truth about the arts of free peoples. Except for technical subjects, few schools really prepare anyone well for a productive job. Instead, students at most colleges are indoctrinated with a heady mixture of false beliefs and unjustified fears designed to drive the left wing agenda, to make sure they support the sexual revolution, and to turn them into willing serfs of the state.
But the left is still not happy with higher education as it exists. They would be happy to get rid of the small Christian colleges and Bible schools that still have a handful of faculty who do not support their agenda. If the government pays for everyone’s education, the government will have far more control over that education. Naturally, the government will want you to go to an inexpensive state school to minimize costs. If the state schools are subsidized and the private schools do not get full tuition reimbursement for their students, this will help drive the remaining Christian colleges and Bible schools out of their already precarious existence.
The government will also, no doubt, demand that private schools preach the party line favoring the LGBT revolution or else they will not receive money for their students. The government is already using federal loan access and accreditation to pressure Christian colleges. Single payer tuition will give the government far more power to coerce schools to go along with the leftist agenda.
But there is another important problem. Public school tuition and private school tuition are vastly unequal. Either private schools will not get paid full tuition for their students or students will get vastly different amounts of tuition assistance depending on where they go to school. Since the Democrats are all about ending privilege and unequal outcomes, it is difficult to see them allowing anyone extra money to go to a “privileged” private school. And once again, the results will be additional market pressure against private schools.
Assuming private schools and high quality public schools persist, the government will want to control the choice of who gets what education. This is already the case in most countries with state subsidized higher education. The state gives young people a test that determines if they will be allowed to go on to a higher education or not. In some places the government even decides what students can study and which schools, if any, they may attend. Naturally such a system reduces social mobility. It also produces high levels of stress for students who hope to do well, but have marginal test taking skills. In America today, if you do badly on the SAT, you still have many options. In the world of “free college” it is unlikely this will remain true.
Last of all, government meddling in the free market is a large part of the reason higher education is so messed up already. More meddling will only create more market distortion and provide us with a higher education system that does even less of what people really want and need at even higher costs. In other words, colleges will be even less attentive to the conservative public, and will raise prices again to soak up the new dollars fed into the system by the government.
In the end, the promise of free college is just another tool of the left to extend their dominion over more of everyday life. “Free stuff” ultimately means less real freedom, and ultimately even less stuff.
An example is Japan’s notorious high-pressure academic exam system: https://www.nytimes.com/1975/11/16/archives/in-japan-the-entrance-exam-is-final.html