Friday, January 9, 2015

A New Entitlement

Yesterday, while aboard Air Force One, President Obama took the opportunity to announce a new entitlement, free community college education. Alrighty then.

The proposal was short on details, like how much it was actually going to cost the taxpayers, only that the cost would be “significant” and be shared with the states who would be required to pick up 25% of the unstated cost. Here are the details that were provided:

The program would be offered to “students of any age” who were “willing to work for it” and were able to maintain a 2.5 GPA, be enrolled at least “half time” and make “steady progress” toward their degree. In order for community colleges to participate in this program they must adopt, “promising and evidence-based institutional reforms.” The President estimated that the plan could benefit up to 9 million students.

Several questions leap to the inquisitive mind:

1.     What does “willing to work for it” mean exactly? How many hours a week? What kind of job? Will someone be required to provide these jobs?

2.     What does, “steady progress” mean with respects to qualification for this program?

3.     Since this program is open to “students of any age” and will not be needs tested, is it possible that the primary beneficiaries wind up being the middle and even upper classes, and not the needy? Especially since the needy are already qualified for Pell grants?

4.     Does the requirement that State run community colleges adopt “promising and evidence-based institutional reforms” amount to an unconstitutional overstep by the Federal government which does not have jurisdiction over the educational institutions of the States? And, what are these “evidence-based institutional reforms” of which the President speaks?

5.     Since our nation currently has amassed 18 trillion in debt and still is running a dangerous annual accounts deficit, where exactly will the money for this new entitlement come from?

Ok, whenever any President or any politician for that matter introduces a new spending program, my default position is usually intense skepticism. The reason for this should be self-evident, (see large intimidating number in #5 above). However, since even a broken clock is right twice a day, a thinking person should not dismiss every proposal out of hand. For example, while I might object to transforming a college education into an entitlement on the grounds that A. we are broke, and B. this is no business of the Federal government, I must confess that there are far dumber things to spend money on that giving a deserving kid a shot at a decent education. So, maybe I could be persuaded to support this under a couple of conditions:

1.     Full financial disclosure before any votes are cast. None of this 3000 page crap that we have to pass before we can find out what’s in it.

2.     A dollar for dollar exchange of another government program for this one. For example, let’s say that it is determined by the wise men at the CBO that this thing is going to cost 100 billion. It would then be the job of the proponents of “free college education” to find a 100 billion dollar federal program, or a combination of several smaller programs that add up to 100 billion to eliminate, (I would suggest the Small Business Administration and the Commerce Department for starters).
Yes, I’m aware that the State of Tennessee already has a program very much like the President’s and that’s great since the States are where these initiatives should be coming from. And yes, I’m aware that college is free for all in Germany and much of Europe. But the fact that Europe does something does not necessarily imbue it with the ability to end all debate. Europe has its own financial time bombs, many of which make that large, intimidating number in #5 look like child’s play, and many of which might very well be the result of such a profligate welfare apparatus. However, as a reasonable man, I am willing to entertain this particular idea knowing full well that when it comes to Federal programs, an awful lot can go wrong.