By Christina Grattan
It is a fatal mistake to fall into the illusory trap of free college education. There was a book I recently read with a profound maxim. "TANNSTAAFl," which means "there ain't no such thing as free lunch… anything free costs twice as much in the long run or turns out worthless." 1 If only the young socialists of today believed that someone would have to suffer by paying for what they consider "free." In the case of free college education, the government would not be paying for it. As The Foundation for Economic Education candidly states, "In the end, regardless of jurisdiction, it's the smallest minority that gets stuck with the bill: the individual taxpayer." 1
Billions of dollars in taxpayer money already help fund college education. 2 If the government does not curb its spending, which it usually fails to do, free college education would be financed through raising taxes. 3 Therefore, there will be less money in civilians' pockets and productivity will be greatly reduced due to higher taxes, decreasing the incentive to save and work. Higher taxation is implicitly no different than paying the public college upfront for tuition as the funds will be coming out of someone’s hard-earned money.
Another major problem with free public college education is that it would strengthen the monopoly the state already has on higher education. As Fredric Bastiat, a French economist, wrote, "the law has only two alternatives: permit … teaching-and-learning to operate freely … or … [take] from some … to instruct others, without charge. But in the second case, the law commits legal plunder by violating liberty and property." 4
To have higher education "operate freely" rather than by state compulsion means that there must be more fluidity within higher education choice. Making public college education free, though, would render this choice useless. Students who are financially strapped will be compelled to attend a state school or community college, without considering alternatives such as private schools. This is why it would increase the state monopoly on higher education and may even hurt competition between public and private schools. Private institutions would shrink out of existence being outcompeted by free public college education made economically infallible by the government.
This is a dangerous measure to implement since state schools tend to assault free speech and emulate leftist agendas, attempting to indoctrinate students. 4 Preston Cooper, a writer for Forbes explains how "If universities rely more on government than students for funding, the level of investment in higher education hinges on the whims of politicians rather than the needs of students." 5
This would be exacerbated by making public college education free as legislators with a political agenda could implement whatever they like into the curriculum, not accounting for what the students desire.
Even without state schools being free, this is already happening to a great extent in California. According to The Heritage Foundation, California State Universities are now requiring every student to take ethnic and social justice studies to graduate. 6 It is not just the mere study of it. It is an effort to provoke a student's mind to conform to the thought of social justice-minded bureaucrats.
As Heritage explains, "Ethnic studies teach the... "minorities" (really, any American who belongs to a group that the activists have convinced the bureaucracy to officialize as marginalized)... that they have a long list of grievances...particularly against whites. To Americans who have been... thought of as belonging to the "oppressor" classes, ethnic and social justice studies classes instruct them to forthwith act submissively, assume the burden of collective guilt for sins in which they have taken no part, listen, not talk, etc." 7
This mandate is a recipe for a new era of class conflict, as socialism always hungers for victim mentality, like the Marxist notion of the bourgeoisie oppressing the proletariat, the state educators want students to believe the white people are the oppressors of the "minorities." This could easily lead to the overthrow of American exceptionalism as we know it. And universal public college education for all would make this a reality as even more students will be falsely lured into the state's handout of free education.
Instead of resorting to the left’s hegemony over student’s minds, the solution should be widening the choice of where to attend college while increasing its affordability. The American Enterprise Institute recommends colleges to implement a three-year bachelor's degree reducing the 120 unit requirement to 90 units, by decreasing core curriculum requirements. 8 This measure would reduce the debt burden on students and government spending while increasing the competitiveness and enrollment of colleges.
Daniel Lacalle, an influential Spanish economist, proposes a practical solution to the issue of school choice. He looks to Sweden's libertarian approach where “Education vouchers… by which universal education is provided without giving the monopoly to the state. Each person receives a voucher from the education budget that they can spend on any school or university they want, be it private or public." 2
Instead of having the vouchers solely come out of taxpayer dollars though, Lacalle hopes that capitalism would fund college education in America. He believes that businesses "supplementing school and university vouchers for employees and stakeholders of corporations [is] a sound business decision that cements corporate reputation and builds more sustainable and stronger societies." 2
With Lacalle's pro-free-market approach and the reduction of time and money to complete a degree, the state's need to make public college education free is futile and inefficient. Capitalism can be used to better the public or private college education of students making it more affordable, raising the standard of living, and promoting the flourishing of humanity as it has for centuries. The notion that capitalism is an unnecessary evil that socialism attempts to cure should be the other way around. The Babylon Bee, a satirical news outlet, fully understood the threat of the state's monopoly on education when its headline read "Concerning Rise In Independent Thinking Attributed To (Public) School Shutdowns." 9 Capitalism creates free thinkers that are not taken captive by the state school's debilitating lies and instead believe in progress, ingenuity, intellectual criticism, and the American dream.
1. Heinlein, R (1966). The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress. G.P. Putnam’s Sons. p. 91
2. Lacalle, D. (2020). Freedom or Equality: The Key to Prosperity Through Social Capitalism. Post Hill Press. pp. 157, 158
Christina is currently a junior political science major at Biola University, who has a genuine heart to help the world. Her strong faith in God drives her to pursue justice to create a freer and better world, which starts with fighting the lies of socialism. In her free time, you can find her reading books to inform herself, discussing politics, and making frozen yogurt runs.