Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Question from reader: Why Shouldn't Higher Education be Provided by the Taxpayers?

Q:I can't help but notice that you didn't actually give a reason why higher education shouldn't be provided for in the same manner as high school level education, you simply stated that at this point it's not (which is true, but not germane to the point that an educated public is valuable enough to merit taxation to pay for higher education for all).

Sure, I’ll try to address that a little better. The primary reason it shouldn’t be provided by society (taxpayers) in its current form is partially what I already described- the dramatic system changes it would require and the reduced access to most for a higher tax cost to everyone. Some would say, well expand it all the way and don’t reduce access to contain costs. That’s what’s happening in Medicare and Medicaid and we see how well that’s working for the national budget. There is also no economic argument for everyone in the society having a college education, as we do not need bachelor’s degree holders running assembly lines, cleaning offices, etc. but it is also a matter of pure fiscal responsibility. The biggest reason people go to college is to get a better job and make more money over their lifetime. Plain and simple. If you can afford to go for recreational purposes or pure interest purposes, more power to you, but there’s no justifiable reason the society should pay for you to learn about your fields of interest in a formal setting just because you want to, and I don’t know of anywhere in the world that is really done. Either access is greatly limited to only the best students who are then given that option, or much more career focused overall. Nowhere I can find pays for anyone who wants to go to college to go, which is basically what people have been suggesting on here the past couple days. That said, since the biggest reason people go to college is to get a better job, a college education is an investment. It is not a strict necessity to make a living, do well, etc. It’s required for some fields of course (and probably in several it doesn’t need to be), but society does not view it as a requirement to live a decent life, as we do a high school education. Since it is an investment, the student and their family should plan ahead financially, decide how much to invest, and make sure it will pay off. If it’s no longer a fiscally responsible investment for the individual to go to college, there’s no real reason the society should want to invest in it for you either knowing you aren’t willing to.
All people really want is to have the debt and risk of debt removed from them so they can attend college without worrying about these things, but that simply can’t happen in the US system where access is wide open and options are so varied. There’s also no logical reason that the government should take on the risk of investing in your education and future productivity if you’re not willing to do so. That’s where this capitalist vs. socialist/communist argument is going to keep coming up… If you want to have a better job, obtain a higher level of knowledge that will enhance your success in life, etc. then why shouldn’t you be willing to invest in it yourself and take on the risk? So you can no longer afford the ivy league school or private liberal arts school you wanted because they raised tuition? Go somewhere you can afford that still offers a solid education. You don’t ask the government to buy you a nicer house than you’re willing to buy with your own money, or can afford because the housing prices went up, do you? (Okay, some people basically did in the past, but we saw how that turned out haha!) I wouldn’t be taking on about $200,000 in student loan debt for medical school if it was an impossible investment, and I would never ask the government to do that for me either. If students are smart about where they go to school cost wise, the career fields they consider, and work as hard as possible to find ways to reduce the cost of their education, then they should be comfortable taking on the debt or financial responsibility for their own future.
Hope that helps give some insight into my viewpoint.

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