Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Why "Free" College Is A Bad Idea

If you love our "free" K-12 system, if you think our "free" high schools are great, just imagine what "free" college would be like!

If you're not bright enough to conduct that thought experiment, let's take a look at the lesson France provides us:
From certain perspectives, the French higher education system would seem to be doing great. There are numerous prestigious schools, thousands of students attend them, and the government has spent millions upon millions of euros since the 1980s in subsidizing both students and universities. But looks are deceiving. In fact, the number of students failing to pass their first year is at a record high, universities are overcrowded, infrastructure is in dire need of renovation, and youth unemployment is closing in on 30% (the European Union average is 20%). It turns out that free and fair are neither free nor fair...

If you subsidize something, you get more of it. These subsidies have effectively created a generation of young people who attend college because it is free, even if an apprenticeship might suit them better. Their education costs their neighbors large amounts of money and costs them several years of their lives that could have been spent learning more relevant skills.

But free college wasn’t enough; France also wanted it to be fair. To that end, France got rid of the ‘elitist’ system of getting accepted to a university. For many years, admission to a university required an entry exam or good grades: the numerus clausus. The French government got rid of that, opening the floodgates for thousands of students who otherwise would have been rejected. The effects of this have been especially pronounced in social sciences, law, international relations, history, and medicine. Since that time, only medical schools have successfully lobbied to get the restrictions reintroduced.

Unable to manage the overpopulation by limiting admission or increasing tuition, French universities have turned to a third way to deal with the problem.

2014 data show that only 30% of French students get their bachelor degree without resetting a year, only 43.8% make it from first to second year, and a solid 19% leave university with no diploma whatsoever. Why is that? Some of it obviously has to do with the decline in the quality of public secondary education, but degrees are also more difficult to acquire than they were before...

Instead of making the system free and fair, higher education becomes increasingly expensive for taxpayers and increasingly difficult for students.
Economics 101 tells us that this is exactly what would and should happen.  Still, some people believe in unicorn farts.


Anonymous said...

When I was doing language study in France, in 1970, my older host sister had not done well enough on the baccalaureat to get into (free) college, and had gone straight to full-time work. The younger one, the stronger student, was entering her final year of lycee and thought she had a good chance of passing her bac at the end of the year, and getting into university. She did not make the cut score, and also went straight to work.

Darren said...

Could she have paid for her own schooling, or does that exist in France?