The Corner


Is There Really a ‘College Affordability Crisis’?

Although Hillary’s “free college” campaign promise last year didn’t bring them victory, Democrats still think there is political hay to be made in declaring that there is an affordability crisis in higher education. They’ve put out a hackneyed report declaring that the country is suffering because not everyone gets a college degree and saying vaguely that Washington must do something to solve this supposed crisis.

That overlooks some very inconvenient facts, which I write about in today’s Martin Center article.

It overlooks the fact that we already have a labor market glutted with college graduates. We have oversold higher education, a condition that was manifesting itself 20 years ago and has gotten steadily worse. It makes no sense to devote more resources to slapping college credentials on still more academically weak and disengaged students.

Another fact the report ignores is that there are many good careers open to individuals who don’t have college degrees.

It overlooks the fact that the main reason why college has gotten so much more expensive is Washington’s meddling. Bill Bennett was essentially right when he argued that the more generous we make student aid, the more schools will raise tuition and pocket the money for what they love to spend on — the race for prestige.

The report takes it as a fact that declines in state higher-ed spending are a major cause of the “affordability crisis,” but the so-called “cuts” are in almost all cases reductions in per student expenditure, not actual reductions in appropriations. And this argument overlooks two facts: College costs started rising long before the states realized they were spending too much on it and the cost of attending private schools has also been rising.

And what to do about this alleged crisis? The same old “progressive” solution for just about everything — more government. Congress must magically alleviate the cost burden on students and prod the states to “invest” more in higher education.

Education is no business of the federal government and it will be a wonderful day in America if politicians (Democrat and Republican) stop saying that it is.

George Leef — George Leef is the director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

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