College is a commodity like bread, meat, cars, and homes. It is not a right like life, liberty, and property.
When two people discuss ways to fix the broken American higher education system, and one believes it should be cost-free, they usually talk past each other. They’re simply on different wavelengths.
One is discussing ways to make it so students get what they pay for. The other doesn’t believe students should be paying anything because they don’t see higher education as a commodity.
Here’s how it works: someone pays money to an institution; the institution provides them with the knowledge to pursue a career — no different than someone paying money to an auto dealer in exchange for a car.
Few Americans who believe education should be free believe so because of practicality. They tend to support free higher education on principle. To them, it’s just one of many steps to abandon the capitalist system of exchange. A deeper conversation with them reveals that there isn’t much they consider worthy of commoditization.
But if higher education is too important to be bought and sold, what isn’t? Food? Shelter? Clothing? If someone’s answer is all of the above, then how much of the above? And who decides how much? A democratically-elected committee?
Returning to the focus on education, how much education is enough per person?
Those who argue that higher education shouldn’t be bought and sold lament that rich kids get the college experience that poor kids can’t afford. Others complain that only privileged kids get to devote four years to studying their hobby or passion, while the underprivileged who do attend have to choose majors that will help them put food on the table later in life.
In their preferred world, everyone gets to spend four years studying whatever they want. Their housing, food, and transportation are covered. If they want to work part-time jobs to earn extra booze money, that’s fine. But I’ve talked to people who believe the government should also give them a small stipend to ensure they enjoy the college experience.
What the pampered citizens in this alternate universe do after they graduate remains a mystery. The pro-free higher education crowd…