Sanders Wants ‘Free’ College For Everyone. Here’s Why That’s Dumb.


Bernie Sanders wants everybody to go to college for free. This is a terrible idea.

Sanders wants taxpayers to foot the bill for little Jimmy’s major in Lesbian Dance Theory. Writing in The Washington Post, the socialist Vermont senator who didn’t understand why loan rates should be lower for houses than college tuition (hint: it’s called collateral) suggested that we must have “universally available public education.” Quoting that iconic American figure Rutherford B. Hayes (hint: he was the guy between Ulysses S. Grant and James Garfield), Sanders said: “An education should be available to all regardless of anyone’s station.”

Sanders traces the history of funding for public education, stating, “It took populist pressure from the progressive movement, beginning in the 1890s, to make widespread access to free public schools a reality. By 1940, half of all young people were graduating from high school. As of 2013, that number is 81 percent.” He then concludes, “A college degree is the new high school diploma,” noting that high school graduates can no longer “move right into a decent-paying job with good benefits.”

It apparently never occurs to Sanders that there could be a correlation between increased access to higher education and inability of those with lower educational attainment to attain jobs. If there is a higher supply of higher-level labor, that means less demand for lower-level labor.

At the same time, the need to push people through “free” public education, which occurs because the state cannot afford to keep people in school indefinitely, means that education must be watered down – so the new graduates aren’t capable of doing solid jobs. A high school degree used to mean actual educational attainment. Now it means virtually nothing.

In other words, free universal public education means more educated people, but it also means more people with a degree but without educational attainment. For employers, it becomes impossible to tell the difference between various high school graduates – and so college becomes the new sorting mechanism. Those with a college degree are automatically considered more intelligent and qualified than those with merely a high school degree. That’s because of the assumption that no one would take out massive loans unless they were willing and able to attain a higher educational level and then get a better job because of it to pay back those loans – and the assumption that banks would not give such loans if they did not believe the borrower capable of paying them back.

But when we expand college to everyone, we end up merely extending the problem of full high school access to colleges. Now college degrees mean nothing, because everyone is going. That situation mandates a new sorting mechanism. And eventually, having gone to graduate school will be a prerequisite for employment, at which point Democrats will suggest that graduate school must be publicly funded.

The proof is in the pudding: if we took Sanders’ history lesson seriously, we’d assume that the unemployment rate should be far lower today (hey, we’ve got lots more college and high school graduates!) than it was in 1890. That’s not the case. The unemployment rate in 1890 was approximately 4%. The unemployment rate in 1940 was 14.6%. And the unemployment rate in 2013, skewed by the low work force rate, was 6.3%.

Higher education, in other words, does not correlate highly with level of national unemployment.

Our lifestyle standard is better today thanks to a more highly-educated populace – but that’s an argument for private loans funding the best students, not all students getting “free” money to pick a major of their choice. And in any case, Sanders doesn’t believe in the progress of capitalism – he thinks solely in terms of how education impacts employment.

Sanders cites as examples of countries with free higher education the Scandinavian states. Putting aside their exponentially higher tax rates for the middle class, Sanders also neglects to mention that countries like Finland force children at age 16 to choose a track, either academic or vocational – and that many students choose a vocational track, or do not meet the academic requirements to enter the academic track. American high schools do not require such training or choice at any point – and colleges wouldn’t either, if Sanders had his way.

“Free” college tuition is a chimera. It often doesn’t help people gain the education necessary for employment, which is why private student loans are often unavailable. The government has responded with its own loans, which have jacked up the number of college students who exit college without solid job opportunities; meanwhile, employers are left trying to distinguish between college students without knowing their marketable skills, and thus rely more and more heavily on graduate schools, which are paid for almost entirely by private loans.

Bernie Sanders doesn’t understand economics, which demonstrates that his degree from University of Chicago was entirely wasted. That should be proof enough that degrees don’t all pay off. Publicly funding degrees, just like publicly funding mortgages, is a sham that will collapse under its own weight.

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