More “free stuff” from Obama: junior college

tsj column writers - from the hartBy Ron Hart

President Obama came to Knoxville, Tenn. to give away $60 billion more in taxpayer money. He said he wants to give everyone free community college. What a guy! There is nothing more magnanimous than giving away other people’s borrowed money to political supporters.

Obama was elected with the support of college kids, the unemployed and union members, the same demographic that elected Budweiser “The King of Beers,” and for the same reason. They both provide a temporary, drunken, feel-good shield from reality—until you sober up and the tab comes due.

In a Pew study, 57% of parents say higher education no longer provides value for the money spent. Parents have to start considering outrageous college costs within the framework of the basic tenets of economics. That way their kids are not tenants in their basements.

Student loan defaults are near record highs, and they burden many. The first thing graduates learn in the real world is to watch to whom they lend money. If federally-funded student loans teach them anything, it’s how to loan shark.

Students pay only 16% of the cost of community college tuition now. It’s not like anyone who wants to work cannot attend. Pell Grants already cover lower income students, so Obama’s speech and promises ring hollow.

He already said in 2010 that he was going to see to it that we had five million more community college graduates by 2020. According to the American Association of Community Colleges, enrollments are down since Obama’s proclamation: another O-Harmony success story.

Obama is right about encouraging two-year technical degrees. We need a skilled workforce. We don’t need another English Literature grad from Belmont University with a $150,000 sheepskin that says he or she studied Comparative Lit.

I guess it’s nice to have a BA in Chaucer Studies in order to impress your co-workers at Starbucks. But with that degree comes crippling student loan debt. College has priced itself out of the market for the value it provides. Years of wasteful liberal academic spending have increased the cost of college at twice the rate of inflation, with no accountability for its product.

With federal money and student loan handouts to any knucklehead who applies, college costs have skyrocketed. Colleges like the University of Michigan have 53% more administrators than faculty. At least 40 college presidents make over $1 million per year. Penn State’s president makes about $3 million. For what? Running Jerry Sandusky youth football camps?

According to The Wall Street Journal, in-state tuition and fees for public colleges have risen in past years by about 8% annually—more than twice the rate of inflation over thirty years. In 1982, my undergrad degree cost $10,000. Had college costs risen at the CPI rate, today that degree would cost $21,000. Instead, it now costs about $60,000. If colleges cared about kids, they would have kept costs down.

There is also an oversupply of educated and debt-burdened graduates. A recent study showed that 44% of graduates with a BA were in jobs that did not require one.

Four-year colleges ought to go to three years anyway or, as students would consider it, one fewer college football season.

There are great public/private partnerships, like one Chattanooga State has with Volkswagen. Chattanooga VW workers make about $27 an hour in nonunion wages and benefits. Joint venturing with technical schools makes sense. But that was Tennessee’s idea, and the feds don’t need to monkey with it. Federal government’s involvement in anything never makes it better.

My home state of Tennessee gets a lot right and does so with zero income tax. It’s called the Volunteer State because Tennessee knows it can’t make you live there. You have to want to. That’s why the auto industry flees the unionized North for innovative and cooperative Southern states.

Why should we taxpayers further support a costly, government-run education system that has failed us? As homage to P.J. O’Rourke: if you think junior college is expensive now, just wait ‘till it’s free.

Resourceful folks can pay for college. The London Mail reported on a site called “Sponsor a Scholar” where older men give college grants and aid to young women in exchange for sex. And a Brazilian co-ed auctioned her virginity for $700,000 to pay for college. If these women are not Political Science majors and end up in Washington, they have missed their calling.

(Ron Hart, a libertarian syndicated op-ed humorist, award-winning author and TV/radio commentator can be reached at Ron@RonaldHart.com or visit www.RonaldHart.com)

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