When addressing the very real issues of rising student loan debt and unaffordable tuition prices, former Vice President Joe Biden’s policy solutions embrace the false promise of “free college.”
The Biden campaign recently released “The Biden Plan for Education Beyond High School,” which details many proposals the plan’s authors suggest are the cure for fixing our broken higher education system.
Unfortunately, the plan will do nothing to reverse the drivers of tuition inflation, but rather, will fuel degree inflation.
The most noteworthy proposal within the former vice president’s policy blueprint is to make both two-year and four-year colleges and universities tuition-free, embracing the policies of both former President Barack Obama and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
Under the proposal, all public community colleges would be tuition-free, and all four-year public colleges and universities would be tuition-free for families making under $125,000 annually.
Tuition-free community college, as well as tuition-free four-year college, is a bad investment for the American people. To begin with, community colleges are hardly a guarantee of upward economic mobility.
Fewer than 1 in 5 students obtain their chosen degree in under three years (for a two-year program). And while graduation rates are much higher for community college students who transfer to four-year universities, only about 20% of students do so.
Furthermore, Americans would not benefit from changing the K-12 system into a K-14 system—or a K-16 system for that matter.
The “Plan for Education Beyond High School” states: “12 years of education is no longer enough for American workers to remain competitive and earn a middle-class income.”
While Americans are certainly in a race to separate themselves in the job market by obtaining higher levels of education, that’s due in large part to credential inflation. Policies that make higher education ubiquitous will always incentivize students to separate themselves, fueling unnecessary and costly degree inflation.
If everyone has a degree, then no one has a degree. Policymakers should propose policies that reverse that trend, not fuel it.
Americans need alternative higher education options that focus on job preparation, rather than degree attainment.
Pathways such as apprenticeships or other vocational educational programs provide attractive streamlined programs for students who don’t want to take the lengthy and expensive bachelor’s degree route.
Instead, the “Plan for Education Beyond High School” proposes to offer grants to states that improve their rates of degree attainment, further incentivizing schools to act as degree mills.
The plan is riddled with other expensive, cost-fueling policies that fully embrace a large federal takeover of higher education.
Take proposals such as the expansion of student loan forgiveness and a doubling of the federal Pell Grant, for example. Both policies would transfer the cost of higher education from those who benefit from it to American taxpayers, who largely will not.
One can hardly think of a less progressive policy than one that asks the vast majority of Americans who do not have a college degree to pay for the education of the elites who do.
Americans deserve policy solutions that will make higher education affordable without relying on taxpayer-supported federal loans or grants.
The most meaningful way to achieve that would be to cut off the generous checks that colleges and universities receive from Washington, not turn them into blank checks.