Thursday, November 5, 2015

Examining Higher Education Subsidies: The High Cost For Low Education

As a former college student, now college graduate I'm always reminded how important a college education appears to be. It is a fact that the higher a person's education, the higher their median income will be. It also a fact that the average cost each of college, whether the university is private or public, increases exponentially every year. However, according to a Gallup poll, "recent graduates are less likely to agree that college was worth the cost." Just 38 percent of recent graduates (2006-2015) strongly agree that their college was worth the cost. How can this be when they have the opportunity to earn more and in turn have more influence than those with just a high-school diploma?

To begin, the idea of government investment in college education is simple. If we as a society, by way of monetary investment, try to get more students into college we would expect two things: the recent graduates will have well paying jobs, and our investment will be returned. What do you think is the problem with this investment? Not only have recent graduates (mostly those with Bachelors of Arts or Science) flooded the free market, making it so that a simple BA or BS isn't going to catch the eye of an potential employer, but the investment has not been returned. In fact the class of 2015 on average will graduate with each student being $35,051 in the red. I don't think we need a crystal ball to foresee that these students are going to have a hard time paying it back.

Turning to a government solution, as most college educated people tend to do, has lead to some politicians to suggest an alternative to the cost of education. The alternative is to make it free. This election season you will hear from politicians that a college education is important, so important it should either be free. Now I ask you, what is more important, the cost of the education, or the quality of the education? Government (in this societal investment) care about what contributions the college student achieved after college, whether it is paying the debt they accrued, or providing a new service to enhance the welfare of the nation. Notice how the government never asks or takes into consideration the actual quality of what they are subsidizing. Also worth noting is the incredible lengths to which government will imply that increasing the number of college graduates is a moral imperative of society at large. I make the claim that it is not.

If higher education isn't affordable for most people, why do we view this as unacceptable? Why is it every time this topic is raised there be a moral fight for everyone to have a college education, especially when the market is already over-saturated with recent college graduates, and not enough jobs for these graduates? Why isn't there a moral outrage due to the quality of education in our society, rather than a principled frustration over the cost? When dealing with the principal of something, one should not look to the cost but to the quality. We should ask what are the qualities of the college, what classes are being taught, what virtues are being promoted, what is the standard of the faculty, and so on. Our government never does this. What the government does do, some say too often, is invest in a system to which they have little idea about what actually goes on, while at the same time asserting injecting funds into the school system is the best solution.

How do I know that government doesn't have any idea of what truly goes on? Simple, look to how they subsidized primary schools and high schools using the same principal goal. The investment was along the same principle, "if use tax dollars to invest in students education at least until they graduate high school, they would invest back into society." Has this happened? Well, I should actually ask has this happened lately, because the quality of a high school education is different than it was in the past. High schools used to include classes that were more hands-on, technical, and directly associated with job obtainment after graduation. Modern high schools do nothing of the sort, but what they have done is increased the amount of they spend per student, with the average being $10,658 per individual student. The monetary cost increase of each student did little to change the educational quality, in fact the quality has decreased so greatly that a high school diploma within the job market has become worthless.

As for college, cost was never the issue, it was the quality of education. Remember in the Gallup poll featured above the statement proposed to the recent graduates was, "My education from [University Name] was worth the cost." It is the quality of the education that is the problem, not merely the cost. Nonetheless you will hear from pundits and politicians how the cost has risen, and how something needs to be done to prevent students from falling into more debt. The thesis of this post is very simple: the problem was never the cost, it was the quality, and when you discuss quality, monetary investment is not necessarily a factor to obtaining quality. I and my fellow graduates would gladly pay more for higher education, if it was worth it. What do I mean by worth it? How about not having classes like "God, Sex, and Chocolate: Desire and the Spiritual Path," (UC San Diego) or "Interrogating Gender: Centuries of Dramatic Cross-Dressing" (Swarthmore)?

Do we really believe that if the government were to decrease the cost of college the quality of a college education would increase? This is laughable. When has a good or service being free meant the quality of that good/service increased? Never. Again, I'm not saying that cost and quality aren't intertwined at times, however I'm saying that when looking at the principle of something (the moral reason for even engaging in the educational system), cost isn't the issue. The issues begins with what colleges offer. When starting college students are introduced to government promoted programs, grants, and loan opportunities to ensure that they won't have to pay directly for classes like "Zombies in Popular Media" (Columbia College). Ultimately the question we have before us as a society is who should pay for that decision to enter college, take these types of classes, and enhance their own education level? Should it be the student who directly benefits from it, or the a person who doesn't receive that level of education?

I find the answer is within economist Milton Friedman's statement, "society doesn't have goals, people have goals." The goals of people are not common. Some people want to go to college or perhaps a technical school, others may want to start a business. Should the government also subsidize those who want to start a business? Using the exact principal used in subsidizing education, wouldn't it be in the best interest of society to have more small business? Regardless, the government doesn't do this, and yet people still work hard, and start their own companies and become successful in contributing to society. Government may claim they have a goal to uphold, along with a moral imperitive to society, but what is more immoral than making people who will never directly benefit from college, pay for those who we know now in the long term find that education to be meaningless? So meaningless, it seems, some would rather it be free than worth anything at all.