Mike Rowe: ‘Free’ College Is A Myth That Smears Trade Schools
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Mike Rowe: ‘Free’ College Is A Myth That Smears Trade Schools

In a response to a question from a fan, “Dirty Jobs” host Mike Rowe decried the notion of “free college for all” as a destructive idea that reinforces the stereotype that a trade school education is inferior to a degree from a four-year university.

Consider the number of college graduates today, who can’t find work in their chosen field. Hundreds of thousands of highly educated twenty-somethings are either unemployed or getting paid a pittance to do something totally unrelated to the education they borrowed a fortune to acquire. Collectively, they hold 1.3 trillion dollars of debt, and no real training for the jobs that actually exist. Now, consider the countries widening skills gap – hundreds of thousands of good jobs gone begging because no one wants to learn a useful trade. It’s madness. ‘College For All’ might sound good on the campaign trail, but in real life, it’s a dangerous platitude that reinforces the ridiculous notion that college is for people who use their brains, and trade schools are for people who use their hands. As if the two can not be combined.

Rowe is referring to a policy idea popularized by Bernie Sanders that taxpayers should heavily subsidize college — to the extent that it initially wouldn’t cost students anything out of pocket to attend. Obviously, there are some serious flaws in this idea. When one considers where tax dollars come from, it becomes apparent that students would ultimately end up paying for their tuition one way or another.

Under Sanders’s proposal, the difference is that instead of paying for their tuition at enrollment, students (and everyone else, for that matter) will pay for this “free” education when filing taxes every single year for the rest of their lives.

This won’t make college tuition less expensive, either. We can take a look at the impact government subsidies have had on higher education and determine that it’s done nothing to make college more affordable for anyone. In fact, for every dollar the federal government spends on college subsidies, the cost of tuition goes up by 55 to 65 cents.

“Free” college doesn’t make higher education more accessible, either. As Joy Pullmann and I pointed out last July, anyone with a pulse can get into college, so subsidizing it doesn’t provide a new opportunity for anyone. Rowe hit on this issue in his post a little further down.

I’m not an economist Jim, but I’m pretty sure this is how college got so expensive in the first place. We start by exaggerating it’s importance. Then we call it a ‘right.’ That creates demand and guarantees supply. Then we free up billions of dollars, and encourage millions of teenagers to borrow whatever it takes to pay the freight. The pressure on these kids is enormous – from their parents, their guidance counselors, and their peers. So they sign on the dotted line, and that’s that. Is it any wonder the cost of a degree has risen faster than the cost of food, energy, healthcare, and even real-estate? Is it any wonder some politicians want to fix the problem by forgiving the debt altogether and making college free for everyone?

[…]

Whatever your politics, this is not the time for our candidates to be promoting one type of education over another. The truth about education is this – there can be no hope of success without one. Period. But right now, the majority of available jobs do NOT require a four-year degree – they require training – the exact kind of training that parents, guidance counselors, and presidential candidates should be encouraging at every turn.

Rowe is right. The real problem with higher education is our culture’s obsession with labeling four-year college as the only respectable way to enter adult society, and the reason Democratic candidates are so keen on college is because it seems to benefit them.

“Everyone knows this thought monopoly directly benefits the Left because colleges are absurdly off-center political environments,” we wrote. “Which is probably the real reason Democrats are so eager to have every young person go.”

Bre Payton is a staff writer at The Federalist. Follow her on Twitter.
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