It’s time to stop paying for other people’s college educations


Over the past several decades, it has become accepted that the cost of higher education will continue to rise every year, far outpacing inflation or any other category (save perhaps health care).  Every year, more and more colleges raise tuition to ungodly levels, fully knowing that the federal government will cover the difference.  There is little incentive for them to do otherwise.  Quite simply, college is not anything close to resembling a free market.  We have come to accept the idea that everyone should be able to go to college, including ones that are wildly overpriced, and that government - that is, taxpayers - should foot the bill.

And yet, even questioning this is akin to wanting poor kids to suffer.  During the 2012 campaign, Mitt Romney, supposedly from the party that likes free markets, was a staunch defender of Pell Grants, one of the primary government programs used to subsidize college tuition.  Romney even expressed a desire to expand the program.  For those who don’t know, the basic principle of Pell Grants is that the government gives you money towards your tuition - with no obligation to pay it back.  There are various qualifiers for this money, but it is basically a gift if you get it.  So needless to say, when I heard this during the debate, one thing was clear - you’re not allowed to question the basic idea that government has an interest, even an obligation, to pay for college for those who cannot afford it.

It’s a nice intention, to be sure.  Traditionally college has been a way for kids to get ahead in the world - degree holders still earn more on average than those with just high school education.  But for many, college is useless or counterproductive.  This is because the higher education product has become so diluted that many degrees are essentially worthless.  Add to that the fact that there is virtually no one who cannot get into some school and “earn” some letters on a piece of paper, and the fact that, due to the above issues, even the high cost is not as much of a barrier because of so much government help.  Because of this, college is not seen as an investment in time and money to be made with great care and thought, but, rather, a right and something you are entitled to enjoy without much personal risk.

Yet as bad as the situation is, it’s just going to get worse if Obama and his allies get their way.  A new policy being proposed will take the problem and make it unfathomably worse.  Under the new guidelines, student loan payments would be limited in both amount and years, with the effect that no student would ever have to pay more than a certain amount.  Thus, there would be literally no reason to go to a cheaper school, since you’d only be on the hook for, say, $30,000, even if your education cost over $160,000 (which is easy these days).  As reported by Hans Bader at the Competitive Enterprise Institute,

The revised “Pay as You Earn” program will allow eligible student-loan borrowers to cap monthly payments at 10 percent of discretionary income, and have their federal student loans forgiven after 20 years — or just 10 years, if they go to work for the government. An earlier version of the program capped payments at 15 percent and offered forgiveness after 25 years. For students who foolishly attended third-rate but expensive colleges and law schools, this could wipe out part of their debt, at taxpayer expense, since their salaries in the low-paying jobs they end up with will be insufficient to pay off all of their massive debt in 20 years if they pay only 10 percent of their leftover income on repaying their student loans.

So why not go to school at a wildly overpriced college?  You’re only going to pay 10% of your “discretionary income” and after 20 years, your debt is forgiven - 10 years if you work for Uncle Sam.  Who’s going to pay the rest of this?  The taxpayer, of course.  While they are struggling to pay off their own student loans and perhaps save for their own kid’s college, they are paying off some kid who took out loans that no sane person would ever take out if they knew they’d have to pay them.  Meanwhile, there’s a good shot they are also paying this person’s unemployment if their expensive degree didn’t pan out.

I’m all for helping others achieve their dreams, but this idea that I’m responsible for other people to go to college has got to stop.  Quite simply, no one should be going to a college they cannot reasonably afford with a combination of family help, their own income, and reasonable student loans.  I’m sorry if this means that you can’t go to Harvard when your parents work blue-collar jobs and you don’t have good enough grades to get a free ride.  But guess what - you don’t need to there to do well.  You can go to community college or to a cheaper school that will give you a fine education.  You don’t have a right to my earnings to satisfy your need to go to prestigious, wildly overpriced schools.

As a whole, we need to stop thinking we have the right to demand other folks pay for whatever nice things we want.  We see the result of the obsession that everyone has a right to home ownership - mortgages with little or no downpayment given to folks who should have never qualified.  Education is no different.  If you want to go to college, either pick one you can afford, work a few years and save some money up, or do something else.  Stop demanding that I pay for it.  You don’t get all the nice things in life just because you want them.  If we stop this attitude, colleges will have to reduce prices and finally the cost of higher education might be appropriate to its actual usefulness.

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