When I hear people say,"College should not be free" my blood begins to boil. It's not that I think everyone deserves a handout or I want to cheapen the value of my undergraduate degree. It's just that public education is a must in this day and age and a high school degree no longer makes an individual stand out in a job search. For that matter, a high school degree doesn't even provide you with the necessary education in life anymore.
Let me explain.
My undergrad degree was bestowed on me after I left a service academy and decided that state college was the easiest alternative to pursue. My application to the US Coast Guard Academy took me months to prepare, a lifetime to build and more hoops to jump through than it was worth when the US Coast Guard poisoned me and nearly killed me when they threatened to remove 18 inches of my intestines and install a colostomy bag on my 18-year-old body. It was not just a bad a career move for me to try my hand at a service academy, it was almost lethal and thank God I was allowed to leave and pursue a normal education at UCONN.
My days at UCONN were not the best either. I drank like a Rock Star, struggled to get to class and otherwise undid all the good health and proper manners I was taught as a youth. As one relative told me when I was a year into school at UCONN at the tender age of 20, "You're slipping. You're a mess."
The freedom I was offered at state college was new to me and I did not handle it well. I put on 50 pounds, developed a smoking habit and quite frankly was as sexually promiscuous as Magic Johnson. I was very lucky to walk out of there four years later with a degree and mild case of cirrhosis of the liver and no STD's.
It was an education all right. An education in how to live in the unfair bureaucracy, how to waste $100,000 and how to do the absolute bare minimum and succeed. It made me a perfect candidate to work in Government.
At least, that is what I thought before I went for my masters. I decided to go further in my education because even after I had my Undergrad, in the late 90's, I was still pretty much without direction, making almost no income and otherwise drowning in student loan debt. I made the decision to go deeper in debt believing, "He who dies with the most unpaid debt wins". It was a bad mantra.
While I got my masters, though, certain things became clear to me. How to live like a normal person, how to get me out of bed on time and show up to a meeting prepared, in clean clothes with a pen in my pocket. How to return a phone call in a timely manner, and how to be basically polite to my coworkers and friends. The truth is, grad school teaches you how to be a professional in a chosen field, but all these lessons I came to understand in grad school were first presented to me in Undergrad.
Learning is a funny thing. You don't really know you know something until you have to use it. A test or exam, it tests what you have memorized. But to really know a skill, you have to be called on to use it when you least expect it and then you really know if you know something.
Grad school did not teach me to be a well adjusted professional, it taught me to be a good journalist. Undergrad taught me to be a well adjusted professional man even if I didn't practice those lessons while I was an Undergrad.
An Undergrad degree no more teaches you to be a skilled tradesman, than does a high school degree. High school teaches you to learn. Undergrad teaches you how to act. And it's not until you get to grad school that you even start to master a chosen field or skill.
So don't tell me how valuable your Undergrad degree is. It's just another level of education that used to divide the white collar worker from the fry technician. But today, you need an undergrad degree to even be a fry technician, so free college can't drive down the value of an undergrad degree any more than the current economy already has.
But let's also get our terms right, "Free College" is not free for all. If you want to spend a fortune learning how to make your bed and set an alarm clock, you are more than welcome to go to Harvard or Yale or Boston University. And they will teach you how to be a fully functioning adult better than most. But if public colleges and community colleges charge the same price that the Private colleges do, you will create a permanent underclass of middle and low-income students who can't afford to learn to become successful adults. And that is what we have right now.
Free college only means that public and community institutions will be offered to those who otherwise can't afford to go to Yale to be taught how to live in society. If you want to pay to go to private school for the same lessons, you are more than welcome to go. But don't think for a second America will allow you to have a monopoly on how to live as a full functioning adult by refusing to allow those who want a better life the opportunity to get the most basic lessons taught on the undergrad level.
As to how expensive it will be to offer free public and community college to everyone, we already know what it costs. When we pay to jail all those kids who don't get the lessons of undergrad because they are too poor, too disenfranchised and without hope, we pay a great deal more. It would be way cheaper to make those kids live in a dorm, get up at 8 AM for English 101 and have to pick their classes for the next semester and at the end of it, they would pay taxes, be productive and help us grow an America we are proud to live in. The cost of NOT educating the youth of America is way more expensive than the cost of educating them.
But let us not forget the high premium we put on a Harvard Undergrad degree. It cost more because it's worth more, or so that is what the rich people tell their precious little larva when they ship them off to Boston as they have every September for the last 200 years. Your Harvard BS (Or BA) is just that, BS. But if you really think that Harvard will charge you more if we give a degree to kids at community college free of charge, maybe you should have passed on that kegger at Sigma Ep and gone to your ECON 101 class.
When you increase supply, you decrease demand, and prices don't go up, they go down. More Undergrad opportunities at the public level means there will be less of a demand for undergrad opportunities in the private world. Fewer students applying to Harvard means Harvard will have to lower costs to compete in the market. That's how your beloved capitalism works after all.
Maybe when you finish your undergrad, you'll understand basic economics and realize how worthless it really is to go $200,000 in debt for an undergrad degree in the real world. Maybe you will understand that and maybe then you won't be so pissed that we want to make sure everyone gets a chance to live a better life in America. Maybe then you will see that our parents and grandparents had the chance to get an education before the rigged economy made a high school degree worthless and the future generations deserve the same chance. Maybe all this is possible but then again, you were out til 4 AM puking behind the dumpster at the Student Union last night. Maybe you should read this when you are feeling a little better and the dew behind your ears has dried.
Published by Christopher Richard