Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The unforeseen problem when states offer free college tution

I think the free two-year college tuition Tennessee offers has been great, in fact one of our sons is currently benefiting from it.  Now, Tennessee is offering free two-year tuition to adults as well, which I think is wonderful too.  Recently I heard New York is offering free four year college tuition to their residents.  Personally, I have no issue with states offering free college tuition, but I see a problem just around the bend.

I'm not a Socialist, not by any stretch, but I'm glad to see the shift towards free State college coming about.  Free college really makes sense, in a society that provides K-12 education already.  The problem with free college isn't, "Where will the money come from?"  Tennessee has shown, successfully, that their lottery proceeds can be utilized quite well to cover these costs.  What could be wrong then with free college?

Again, I'm in favor of free college, such as what we have here in Tennessee, and I hope as many people as possible will take advantage of this, so this post isn't a rant against free college.  But, I do see a serious problem when higher-education is free.  Namely, we as a society will eventually devalue a college education if it's free.

Only a generation ago, you could do well supporting your family with a high school diploma, but in the last few decades, better paying jobs required a Bachelor's degree and we've seen that shift to where now often times a Graduate degree is becoming a necessity.  Making college free will only exacerbate this trend.

It's basically a supply & demand issue and a perception problem.  When more people are able to enter the workforce with college degrees, there's more competition for the same positions, thus giving employers more leverage.  And, we tend to place value not only on the education which is received in college, we also value a college education because of the cost of the education itself.  Free degrees will not carry the same clout in the minds of the masses.  Therefore, when you add these factors together, it seems like in a few years a Bachelor's degree will be viewed no differently than a high school diploma is viewed today.

I doubt I have an answer as to "now what?" or how to avoid free college from being devalued in the minds of most people.  But, I'm still in favor of states offering free tuition.

So, my suggestion to the people being blessed by free college degrees is the same advice I've given to freshman college students for years: Do well in your studies and get good grades so you can shoot for a good scholarship and make it into a Graduate program of your choice.  Effort and hard work are rewarding, and no one can take your education away from you, so soak up all of the free education you can and go out and make a difference in the world around you.


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