Justin Gage | Tyrant Watch
This article will be the first of a series of Sensible Solutions that explore alternative ways to sustain conservatism in the 21st Century.
Bernie Sanders and others would have you believe that free tuition at public colleges & universities would instantly level a playing field long tilted in favor of those who are children of the already-successful. During his bid to be the Democratic nominee for the 2016 General Election, Sanders has repeatedly inferred that free tuition will lead to great jobs for everyone. With unemployment at 5% officially, unofficially well over 10%, where are these jobs going to come from? There are citizens who are still overqualified for positions they’ve barely clung to since the economic downturn of 2008.
In 2012, an estimated $62.6 billion was spent on tuition at U.S. public colleges & universities. The federal government is currently over $19 trillion in debt…where is this extra money suppose to come from? The middle-class is taxed too much as it is, and they are the only class that pays anywhere near a proportional amount. Are there going to be cuts to infrastructure spending? Military budget cuts? The famed “universal” healthcare system known as Obamacare scrapped to pay for it? Surely not.
Realistically, not everyone has a skill set that translates to a career that requires a college degree. There’s nothing wrong with that. Manufacturing, construction, freight transport and other industries all have very competitive-paying career options that do not require a college education. The education system needs to be fixed not so that all citizens can go to college, but so that intelligent, ambitious students won’t have to sacrifice their dreams to pay for it. Never in our nations history have so many intelligent and productive-minded citizens fell victim to the student loan industry, or didn’t receive higher education due to a choice to be fiscally responsible and not be forever in debt just to achieve a college degree.
In his 2011 State of the State address, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry challenged TX public universities to craft bachelor degree programs that cost under $10,000 total. That’s tuition, books, school fees, etc. Perry stated that the universities could achieve this goal by offering these as online-based programs, and also by awarding degrees based on competency. At the time, the plan was met with criticism statewide. Educational leaders called the possibility “a stripped down education” and stated that “Nobody in higher education even thought it was possible.” Around and the same time, the Texas Public Policy Foundation funded a public-opinion survey that found that 81% of Texans felt public universities in the state could be run more efficiently. Nationally, a 2011 study showed 75% of Americans felt college was simply unaffordable.
One year after Gov. Perry’s challenge, Texas A&M-San Antonio announced a Bachelor’s level Information Technology (IT) degree that would cost under $10,000 in tuition and fees. Presently, 11 other public universities in Texas have now announced $10,000 degree initiatives. Texas isn’t the only state to challenge the education establishment. Recently, Florida Gov. Rick Scott challenged public universities there to craft $10,000 degree programs. Lawmakers in Oregon and Oklahoma have begun work on introducing legislation creating $10,000 degree programs as well. In 2013, Georgia Tech announced they would offer online MASTER’S degree programs in Computer Science for $7,000. The same program on-campus at Georgia Tech would cost $40,000.
The keys to the success of such a system are simple. Schools must resist the urge to incorporate Greek organizations and sports teams into their marketing strategy. I have found they negatively impact the educational experience, mainly serving as recruiting and exposure tools for the benefit of individual school faculty and students. Also, why would schools require that students purchase specific materials for class (books, workbooks, specialized equipment, etc.) that professors may or may not utilize? Textbooks averaged $150 a piece when I attended college, and were over $200/each a short time later while my wife attended school. They’ve risen again dramatically since then. Either use them or don’t require them to be bought, from the school bookstore or elsewhere. What happened to a teacher lecturing and a student taking notes?
Perhaps the biggest indicator of a broken system is the constant building construction on college campuses. Sure, it benefits the construction companies, but how does marble floors and lavish architecture benefit a STUDENT? How about football stadium rennovations, or an overpriced chain restaurant in the Student Union? Expensive projects such as these are largely cosmetic and serve little to no educational purpose. When is the last time you heard a student say, “I can’t study in here, it’s old and not pretty enough.” Never.
Lastly, there is a distinct difference between education and the “college experience” most students receive (and sadly would prefer). That distinction is EDUCATION. College students care less about education than Thursday night house parties and Saturday tailgating. Greek organization members live in “dorms” that are actually mansions, and former “brothers” enable the current crop with booze and funding. There have been actual instances of students attending class long enough to receive Pell Grant refund checks, then dropping out of school, using the grant money to fund drug dealing on campus. Who benefits within this system? Professional sports leagues? Drug Cartels? Politicians? It sure isn’t those who seek to better themselves, that’s for sure.
While I’m not advocating (nor criticizing) for such a system, I’m simply pointing out that affordable education is attainable without sacrificing the conservative movement. Free tuition will never be realistic, but affordable education is vital to sustained growth as a nation. Let’s make it happen.