The Liberty of Education, Part 3: Is Free Community College Education Really Free?


Today, politicians take the question of the importance of education to the extent of attempting to understand its financial worth. Presidential contender Bernie Sanders, an independent-socialist Senator from Vermont, has contended that a free community college education for students would make the United States more globally competitive.  Yet Sanders’ plan incurs many significant disadvantages:

  • How do we pay for this?

Free education looks good on paper.  You get to go to college for free, take as many classes as you want, and graduate debt-free.  But in the end, who ends up paying college staff?  If it is from taxpayers’ dollars, would that mean that more money needs to be appropriated from the state budget in order to offset the amount of potential students?  Would this, in turn, mean that taxes would be increased in order to compensate for the increased costs?

President Obama suggested this idea in January of this year. Yet the cost, according to deputy White House press secretary Eric Schultz, is estimated to be about $60 billion. In a day and age where fiscal responsibility is important and the United States is currently sitting on a budget deficit approaching $18 trillion, there needs to be a point where the government must consider how the budget plays in.

The fiscal burden, however, is not felt just by the government and taxpayers as a whole.  In fact, the college students that would supposedly “benefit” from this program would also face additional costs, and this leads me to point #2.

  • A free college education program would not help the people it claims to help

I’m sure that Senator Sanders and those who support this program want to help the students who cannot afford a college education.  Yet community colleges, constrained by a budget, cannot accommodate a swarm of students into their campuses for little to no cost at all.  Thus, they can get around this by increasing the price of different services on campus, such as increased costs for food, counseling, tutoring, transportation, etc.  In essence, if tuition cannot be increased, colleges will find other outlets for revenue, as a college which receives significantly less revenue than before would be forced to shut down.

Folks, the idea of free education is appealing – yet once one digs down beneath it, the consequences are appalling. Is free community college education aligned with the principles of individual liberty and hard work, or is this just the easy way out? Do we truly want to put our educational institutions at risk financially just to offer students a cost-free tuition?  As the government considers this “free community college program,” they must first consider the fiscal obligations attached to such a program – both for America and for individual students.

On Friday, our discussion on education will conclude with a discussion on an important topic in today’s policy realm: The Controversy of Common Core Standards.

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