Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Letter to the Editor: Free higher education is, in fact, feasible

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(Shannon Broderick/ Daily Collegian)

(Shannon Broderick/ Daily Collegian)

To the Editor:

In “Marching in the Wrong Direction,” Stefan Golas makes a number of arguments against the feasibility and desirability of free higher education. Many of these points are also made by others who oppose abolishing tuition and fees, so we should examine them in more detail.

Golas takes it as self-evident that debt relief to the tune of $1 trillion would not only be impossible, but also destructive to the economy. Note that he makes this claim without any evidence, but let’s address it anyway by looking at history. Take for example the Funding Act of 1790, where the federal government assumed the state debts incurred during the Revolutionary War. The ratio of the cost ($21.3 million in 1790 dollars) to total gross domestic product at the time would have been somewhere between six and seven percent. Turning to the present, the ratio of student loan debt to total GDP (in 2014) is about five percent. Thus we can dispense with the notion that the supposed detrimental effects of debt forgiveness should be taken as given.

On the issue of desirability of free education, Golas claims that increased supply of college students will “steepen the continued devaluation of a bachelor’s degree.” On the contrary, a recent study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that the education-wage gap has grown larger over the past 15 years. A college graduate can expect to earn at least a million dollars more over the course of a lifetime than someone with just a high school diploma.

Pursuing that line of thought brings us to Golas’ most interesting argument: Because college is a financial decision, it makes no sense for protesters to complain about the high costs. In other words, higher education is a private commodity like a restaurant meal, not a public good such as police and military protection, roads, national parks, elementary education and so on. While that view is increasingly common in the U.S., it would be considered quite outlandish in much of the developed world (and indeed, many third-world countries) where higher education is free or mostly free. Here, in the richest country in world history, costs for students and their families have surged ahead of inflation over the past 25 years. That is truly scandalous.

Golas further writes that the whole protest is pointless because change will “never happen in our lifetimes due to the immense clout of those on Wall Street.” He seems to have forgotten that many of the benefits of modern life that we take for granted – weekends, mass schooling, civil rights and so on – came out of struggle against powerful interests. There is no law of nature that says that society cannot make progress toward some ideal, whether it be tuition-free college or anything else.

Realistically, yes, it is likely that none of us would ever personally reap the benefits of a more equitable higher education system. Does that mean we should abandon future generations and only look after ourselves? That is not how progress is made, and it certainly is not the kind of society that any rational person should want to live in.

Michael Berner

Class of 2016

12 Comments

12 Responses to “Letter to the Editor: Free higher education is, in fact, feasible”

  1. KB on November 17th, 2015 10:51 am

    Per P.J. O’Rourke..
    “Freedom is not empowerment. Anybody can grab a gun and be empowered. It’s not entitlement. An entitlement is what people on welfare get, and how free are they? It’s not an endlessly expanding list of rights — the “right” to education, the “right” to health care, the “right” to food and housing. That’s not freedom, that’s dependency. Those aren’t rights, those are the rations of slavery — hay and a barn for human cattle.”

    [Reply]

    David Hunt 1990 Reply:

    As I’ve said somewhere else… if you have a RIGHT to something, then someone else may be FORCED to provide it.

    [Reply]

  2. Zac Bears on November 17th, 2015 11:34 am

    Great letter!

    @KB: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Bill_of_Rights

    [Reply]

    David Hunt 1990 Reply:

    I want a pony! I want, I want, I want!

    You guys wanting, wanting, wanting remind me of this scene:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TRTkCHE1sS4

    Pathetic, sniveling children whining that the world’s not fair!

    What happens when people who actually have to work for a living decide they’re not going to pay for all those wonderful things you WANT? Get in their faces, like the #blacklivesdontreallymatter people at Dartmouth? Shove them, like at Dartmouth? Go onto their property? Protest at their homes? Or let’s just cut to the chase… take things by force in the name of the Student’s Great Leap Forward?

    [Reply]

    David Hunt 1990 Reply:

    BTW, personally I thought the letter was better in the original Russian.

    [Reply]

  3. Rob on November 17th, 2015 2:17 pm

    You’re insane if you don’t think the cost would go up. What incentive would there be to keep costs down. Government assistance is a huge part of why it’s so expensive now. The real world will be harsh when you enter it.

    [Reply]

    David Hunt 1990 Reply:

    @Rob: Yes, they are. That’s the problem… they think things happen in a vacuum.

    [Reply]

  4. Mike Berner on November 18th, 2015 2:24 pm

    Hi, this is Mike Berner, the author of the letter above.

    Clearly a lot of people have strong opinions on this issue. I will not respond to personal attacks or other irrelevant comments, but if you wish to have a more in-depth conversation then feel free to send me an email at [email protected]

    [Reply]

  5. Podubbney on March 17th, 2016 1:29 pm

    “Free” higher education is a misnomer. A more apt term would be “no cost to the student, higher education”.

    [Reply]

    Mike Berner Reply:

    @Podubbney

    I think we all know what it means. It means the same as free police protection, free national parks, etc. These are programs that we came together to support because they make the society a better place for everyone. And if that were the case for higher education, then students and their families would contribute just like everyone else. That’s what living in a democratic society is all about.

    [Reply]

    David Hunt 1990 Reply:

    @Mike:

    Police, parks, etc., are things that are there that don’t specifically benefit someone if they have no need of them. They are “common” benefits.

    Getting someone else to pay for your education specifically? That’s theft. “Free” just means you’re forcing someone else to pay for what you want.

    So, Democracy is about using the power of the majority to take from others?

    [Reply]

    Mike Berner Reply:

    @David Hunt 1990

    “Police, parks, etc., are things that are there that don’t specifically benefit someone if they have no need of them. They are “common” benefits.”

    Surely there are many people that have no intention of ever using those resources. By your logic, I shouldn’t be paying for, say, Denali National Park in Alaska if I have no need of it, i.e. I will never go there. And there are innumerable examples like that at all levels.

    “Getting someone else to pay for your education specifically? That’s theft.”

    Would you say the same of elementary education for children? After all, you and I are done with schooling, so why should we be paying for someone else’s kid to go to school?

    If you concede that parks, defense, elementary education, etc. are common interests, then why shouldn’t higher education fall under the same category? The university system in the U.S. serves the important public function of research and development. For example, most modern technology was developed in the state sector, with much of the initial work performed in the universities. And that is not even including education for the citizens.

    “So, Democracy is about using the power of the majority to take from others?”

    I don’t really have time to go into this in detail, but suffice it to say that’s exactly what James Madison and many of the other Founders believed (save for Thomas Jefferson and his allies, of course). Pursuant to this belief, the government was largely designed to serve the interests of the “minority of the opulent,” and that continues right up to the present. Enormous effort has been devoted to instilling the belief that people should only look after themselves and forget about everyone else, and to a large measure it has succeeded. To a rich person, this philosophy in practice is of no concern. If the police forces are disbanded, they can hire private security. If public education is abolished, they can pay for private schooling. And so on and so forth. Meanwhile, the rest of the population is left to some nasty and brutish existence. Public programs are based on the principle that one should care about other people and the future of the society. This is incompatible with an ideology that values the accumulation of material wealth above all else.

    At least far-right libertarians, who basically believe in a corporate-run society, acknowledge that, in fact, there shouldn’t be public police, firefighters, schools, parks, etc. But it seems to me that your beliefs are intellectually inconsistent; you apparently believe in “common benefits” while simultaneously stating that certain public programs involve “forcing someone else to pay for what you want.” This is very much in line with elite opinion…keep the programs that benefit them, but privatize everything else.

If you want a picture to show with your comment, go get a gravatar.




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