Last week, Bernie Sanders announced Hillary Clinton’s new proposal for nationalizing state university systems and reducing what little financial accountability there is in U.S. higher education. Her new plan “will guarantee that the children of any family in this country with an annual income of $125,000 a year or less — 83 percent of our population — will be able to go to a public college or university tuition-free,” he said.
Let’s be clear right across the bat. Neither Sanders, Hillary, nor any other person can make any education institution “tuition-free.” When they say “free,” they mean “we’re going to force people who aren’t participating in some endeavor to pay the expenses of people who choose to.” A, that’s deceptive language. B, this arrangement is deeply unfair.
Hillary’s plan will only make everything wrong with higher education a lot worse, because it doubles down on the very things inflating costs and deflating quality.
Vote for Me and I’ll Give You the Moon
Clinton’s “plan” is scarce on details. It’s basically only a fact sheet, and says nothing about precisely how she would do what Bernie promises, especially on this huge “free college for 83 percent of Americans” promise. It offers a passel of welfare programs to add to the 92 we already have, including (but not limited to): expanded Pell Grants, perhaps the largest college subsidy system, which is rife with fraud and has ballooned in recent decades; more money to colleges with high percentages of racial minorities; “a fifteen-fold increase in federal funding for on-campus child care”; “a three-month moratorium on student loan payments to all federal loan borrowers”; “For social entrepreneurs and those starting new enterprises in distressed communities…up to $17,500 in loan forgiveness”; and taxpayer-covered subsidies to people who pursue Democrat-favored careers, such as Americorps and teaching.
In other words, vote for me and I will hand you other people’s money like it’s crack cocaine. Mmm, okay. Not one word about how Hillary is going to pay for all this, which should be a salient point to potential college-goers and recent grads, because we will ultimately have to pay for all these goodies, both directly through higher taxes and indirectly through an arthritic economy because government spending limits job opportunities and depresses wage growth. You think student loans are bad? Wait until you get the bill for the federal government’s outstanding loans. They’re a real bitch.
All Hillary’s “fact sheet” says about how this magic is all supposed to happen is: “States will have to commit to a combination of reinvestment and reform” and “Colleges and universities will be accountable for reining in costs.” That’s not ominous or anything. “You VILL do vat I say and you VILL like it!”
A fact sheet for her previous college bailout plan, not this souped-up version, predicted costs of $350 billion over ten years it laughably said, in the language of every head-in-the-clouds politician ever, would be “paid for by closing tax loopholes and expenditures for the most fortunate.” No word about what those are, specifically, all given in weasel language that demagogues the matter into class warfare.
Try this one on for size: Clinton also proposes to perpetuate the kind of programs the Obama administration is putting into place regarding student loans, such as giving people the ability to stick taxpayers with billions of dollars of their debt through opening more doors to class-action lawsuits, outright loan payoffs, and taxpayer-backed income-based repayment programs.
If we want to give relief to not just the lucky one-third who manage to graduate from college but also to every single American, a better approach would be to cut taxes by $350 billion or pay off that amount in federal debt, and deregulate the economy so people have more take-home pay and employers more freedom to innovate. That’s what really helps people pay off college loans: a job in a growing economy. But why offer people a hand up when you can offer them a handout, especially when there’s an election on the line and you have no policies to offer that will help, yet you still want voters to feel beholden to you?
The Myth of Crushing Student Loan Debt
Like Bernie, Clinton relies on several whoppers to distract us from the blatant immorality of coercive wealth redistribution to accomplish goals the federal government has set back every time it’s attempted to do the opposite.
“American families are drowning in debt caused by ever-rising college costs,” she said in a statement, “and it is imperative that the next president put forward a bold plan to make debt-free college available to all.” American families are simply not “drowning in debt” due to college costs. Every single person who wants to get through college debt-free can do so himself, with no need to stick his hand in his neighbor’s pockets. Hillary’s own fact sheet notes that a third of recent grads has zero debt. A third! Maybe we should be asking these geniuses how they did it rather than forcing them to pay for the choices of people who didn’t plan as well as they did.
Despite the never-ending stream of news articles fear-mongering about this recent college grad or that whose six degrees in gender studies have left her hopelessly embedded in lifelong debtor’s hell, the vast majority of college graduates leave with $20,000 or less in debt, and 70 percent leave with $30,000 in debt or less. The typical borrower who is between 20 and 30 years old pays $203 per month in student loan payments, and three-quarters pay $400 per month or less. These are utterly manageable levels of debt for people with the better job prospects a bachelor’s degree confers. Here’s a surprising chart from the American Enterprise Institute showing the most recent data available, from 2012:
News coverage and politicians from both sides of the aisle who unthinkingly repeat falsehoods about “crushing student debt” play right into untrue narratives that benefit a particular political party and way of thinking about government. They teach young people and their parents to think of themselves as victims of their circumstances who have no agency to build a good life for themselves unless they use government force to seize the products of other people’s hard work. This is not only false, it’s immoral, and destructive to a free society.
Ethical journalists and politicians would not tell people lies to exploit their fears for political gain. Yet the political power to fashion society is precisely Sanders’ end game, as he explicitly stated to House Democrats right before their national convention: “the goal isn’t to win elections, the goal is to transform America.”
“Thirty-percent of the adult population has college degrees,” economist Richard Vedder noted to The Wall Street Journal. “The Department of Labor tells us that only 20% or so of jobs require college degrees. We have 115,520 janitors in the United States with bachelor’s degrees or more. Why are we encouraging more kids to go to college?”
Because doing so makes more people dependent on government and the political parties that want to control us using government. The end game with Hillary’s proposal, as it is with the Left’s entire array of proposals, is to remake society. Telling false stories about insurmountable college costs and dividing society into various factions the government helps plunder each other is a means to that end.
Government Doesn’t Relieve College Costs, It Inflates Them
The fact that student loans are completely manageable for the vast number of graduates does not, however, prove that families and young people have no legitimate grievances about the cost and quality of higher education. Just because I can manage to pay my taxes each year doesn’t mean taxes are low.
Yet politicians from both major political parties refuse to address the evidence that government subsidies have fueled the huge increase in college costs over the past 50 years. In other words, Hillary is trying to solve a problem by doing more of the exact thing causing that problem.
A 2015 Federal Reserve of New York paper, for example, “found that as the federal government raised the per-student maximums on subsidized loans, those colleges and universities raised their tuition on average by 60 percent.” This 2014 study finds that, despite multiplying from $13.4 billion in 1981 to $154 billion in 2013, federal subsidies for college have contributed to dramatic price inflation, high loan delinquency rates, a dramatic decline in academic quality, lower birth rates (which are bad for the economy and damage social capital), and depressing the national savings rate, all while not increasing degree attainment for anyone, especially poor people.
People. We. Are. Essentially. Throwing. Federal. Financial. Aid. Out. The. Window. Actually, no, that’s not right, because if we threw it out the window, except if it all fell on someone, it wouldn’t turn higher education into the next government-backed mortgages.
Carlo Salerno, an economist who studies higher education and has consulted for the private student-lending industry, noted that the government imposes virtually no credit checks on borrowers, requires no cosigners and doesn’t screen people for their preparedness for college-level course work. ‘On what planet does a financing vehicle with those kinds of terms and those kinds of performance metrics make sense,’ he said.
America. We are the richest people in the whole entire world, freer than any people in the history of the planet, and with the most opportunities of any other people in world history. Stop believing lies from a lady who wants to exploit you and your fellow Americans all the way to the White House. You don’t need her ideas, and you don’t need her to take other people’s money and give it to you. You can earn your way to college, and you can earn your way into a great life without college.
“The rich” are not stopping you. In fact, they’ve probably funded a bunch of scholarships and training opportunities just waiting for you to earn. No need to plunder. Stop believing the lies that cause you to participate in your own exploitation. Check yo’self before you wreck yo’self — and all of us.