By Matthew Patton
Free stuff is awesome. Who doesn’t like free stuff? Free food, free furniture, free video games… free rent… the list goes on and on. No one wants to pay for something (of value) if they (legally) don’t have to. And apparently, President Obama thinks the same way when it comes to our education.
Now, that last line right there is a drastic oversimplification of the Commander-in-Chief’s stance on community colleges and how education is key in improving the socioeconomic standing of us young people. He is of the mindset that a community college education is (and should be) as universal as a K-12 education, and he wants to make that idea reality, mirroring our European counterparts and the program started in Tennessee (that he modeled this program after). And to be clear: I’m all for free stuff, just like most people.
But. My first reaction to this was “no way this is happening anytime soon.” I’m not trying to say it’s impossible, because historically speaking, education in this country has slowly evolved from being the privilege of the affluent to being a basic right of the masses. So it’s not impossible. In fact, you could argue that the direction The President is trying to take this country in is just a part of the natural “evolution” of the education continuum.
But. There is no way this is happening anytime soon. There is no way it should.
The program, which is titled “America’s College Promise,” is estimated to cost upwards of $60 billion by the White House. Aren’t we a nation mired in debt? A debt to the tune of around $18 trillion? Didn’t we recently, as a nation, suffer our first credit downgrade in modern times? And yet he wants to introduce a program that, by his own design, holds the federal government accountable for 75% of the costs? With what money? Wouldn’t a change like this be more feasible if we didn’t have so many other more pressing financial concerns? I don’t know if the President noticed, but that Republican-led Congress that sits across from him is not about to let him do this (which has been their stance on virtually everything he’s attempted to push through). Not to mention the fact there are grumblings within his own party about this.
And then you have to question the intended efficacy of this program. You’re talking about providing a free education to a demographic that overflows with youth. Youth, which at this stage of its development, has no real idea of what it wants or how to get there. Yes, I’m this close to yelling “get off my lawn.” But when you’re young, and you don’t know what you want, and you don’t have the requisite discipline to weather the various currents of life until you figure it out (as most young students don’t), you know what you don’t do? Give them (the general youth) free stuff. Certainly not a free education. Things need to be earned, and at this stage of life, that reality needs to be hammered home. You know what accomplishes that in a really effective way? When the student has to foot some of that bill. When we have to work a job to make ends meet. You can bet that if we have to produce some funds towards the betterment that an education promises, we will not be so inclined to Snapchat on our cell phones while the professor is giving a lecture.
Another thing that bothers me about this program: it applies to everyone. Including those that come from affluence. That is a complete load of junk as far as I’m concerned. Why does someone that comes from a well-off family get to use this tool? If they’re already in a position to where college tuition isn’t a problem for them because community colleges are already cheap, why should they get a share of something that should be geared more towards people who struggle to make ends meet? In fact, the more that I think on this, why even initiate this program in a universal form? Why not dedicate the money and resources that would be used for this program towards bigger Pell Grants? Towards more scholarships and benefits for low-income families, people that would really need the break that a program like this would provide? It seems so misdirected, it’s aggravating.
Do you know what else I find aggravating about this initiative? It operates under the premise that a college education is what will propel more people in the middle-class of the socioeconomic stratosphere, a premise that is antiquated at best, naive at worst. And the President should be anything but naive (or overly idealistic). You know what having a college degree guarantees you? It guarantees that you’ll have a piece a paper that denotes the educational program you completed and the difficulty level associated with it. That’s it. There are no jobs that come attached. Not a single interview is promised on that piece of paper. And it’s not like that piece of paper is unique: you can walk the streets and find any number of people with similar paperwork working jobs that are not commensurate with the degrees they’ve obtained. Having a degree does not guarantee you a place in the workforce. Employers have tightened the screws in their hiring processes so much (due to general dissatisfaction with current degree-holders) that companies like Adobe and Google recruit straight from programs like Dev Boot-camp, a 19-week workshop that focuses on the skills that companies like that really want. None of them that graduate have a Master’s degree.
Really, this comes off to me as Obama swinging for the fences during his final term. I think he genuinely believes that something like this would make us as a nation more competitive for jobs. But the economy doesn’t support that premise as much as it did when he came up through the ranks, and unless there’s a smattering of open jobs hiding in locations unseen, I just don’t think this idea has any chance of becoming reality.