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Free Tuition and Forgiving Student Debt will Not Save Radical College

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Free Tuition and Forgiving Student Debt will Not Save Radical College Faculty


By Robert Weissberg

July 23, 2019




Americans are keen supporters of higher education and Washington has traditionally generously concurred. But, in the 2020 presidential Democratic primary, several prominent potential nominees have endorsed once-unimaginable levels of government aid for college students. Elizabeth Warren, for example, recently announced that if elected she would spend $1.5 trillion (raised by higher taxes on the very rich) to eliminate up to $50,000 in student loan debt for those in household with incomes below $100,000 with smaller cancellations for households earning less than $250,000. Her plan would also abolish tuition at all public colleges while offering government grants for non-tuition expenses. Meanwhile, a $50 billion fund would help financially struggling historically black colleges and universities (HBCU).


Some 42 million Americans would benefit, especially 75% of those with federal government-funded college debt. Washington would also encourage non-government debtholders to further eliminate student debt. What's more, her plan would require an "annual equity audit" to ensure that low-income and students of color were proportionately represented in both admission and graduation.


Warren's plan ostensibly helps poorer students and minorities climb up the economic ladder into well-paying middle-class jobs, but left unsaid is that college professors and administrators would appear to be even greater beneficiaries. After all, cancelling student debt and free tuition at public colleges may help millions of American youngsters obtain diplomas and be debt-free, but the parchment hardly guarantees a good job. By contrast, opening the floodgates to BA seekers via government subsidies will, it would seem, create yet more academic jobs.


Alas, matters are more complicated and though Warren's plan (and others like it) is unlikely to come into being, it is worthwhile to ask if such huge subsidies have any merit. As we shall see, over and above possibly squandering the $1.5 trillion, her plan may produce the opposite of what it intends, namely it will bring widespread unemployment among many college professors and administrators. As the old saying goes, be careful what you wish for, and this certainly applies to academics.


What Warren, Sanders and other progressives offer is politically predictable: college professors and administrations are among the most loyal Democratic voting blocs, and going one step further, they have long labored to indoctrinate American youngsters to embrace the hyper-expansive government ideology dominating today's Democratic Party. On its face, free tuition to boost enrollments is a wonderful quid pro quo, a generous "Thank You" from Congress to the professorate.


Moreover, this payback (if it ever came to pass) would be arriving in the nick of time. Yes, many tenured faculty, particularly at elite schools, enjoy job security, but contrary to popular stereotypes, being a college professor or administrator is no longer the safe, guaranteed-for-life cushy job it once was.



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