Tuesday, May 27, 2014

NJ Assemblyman Joseph Cryan's Bill to Control College Costs is the Wrong Solution

RE: Our obligation to NJ's young minds by NJ Assemblyman Joseph Cryan

Skyrocketing college costs has prompted two NJ Assembly-persons to introduce legislation to reign in these costs. Enrollment is rising, but graduation rates are falling, often below 50%. In a NJ Star-Ledger op-ed, Assemblyman Joseph Cryan writes:

Teaming up with Assemblywoman Celeste Riley, I am trying to change that with a new package of bills that attempts to cut costs for our middle-class students and families, while increasing the number of young adults who are ready for college and boosting graduation numbers.

How to accomplish this? Through massive state interference in school governance. E.G.:

By putting limits on the amount of credits required for a bachelor’s degree, increasing the ability to transfer between universities and standardizing college courses, we project a quicker path for degree-seeking students.

I left these comments:

The big picture, which Cryan evades, is a textbook example of government funding. When government funding begins, costs inevitably spiral out of control. To counter the inevitable exploding costs, the government must eventually step in to control those costs. The result; government control over the subsidized industry. It is in this way that government spending eventually leads to tyranny.

Beginning in the 1960s, government began getting deeply involved in college financing, through various grants, subsidies, and loan guarantees. The result was predictable by any decent economics textbook; an explosion of college costs, as typically happens when government showers "free money" on an industry. In the last 35 years, higher education costs have risen at 4 times the rate of inflation.

True to form, the Cryan/Riley bill authorizes the government to intrude on higher education school governance, under the guise of controlling college costs. Once these controls start, there is no stopping their expansion over time. As Cryan readily acknowledges, "To accomplish our goals, no aspect of college and university life can go unchecked." Considering the leading role that higher education plays in the intellectual life of a nation, this statement should send a shutter down the spines of anyone who values intellectual freedom.

Furthermore, top-down central planning never works, because it leaves out the vast expanse of private initiative that exists in society. When central planning commences, to that extent the handful of planners usurps everyone else's liberty to think and act on their own judgement: It is a veritable "moratorium on brains" other than the government planners, as everyone else must follow their dictates. Only a free market leaves people free to act on their own judgment, thus bringing maximum intelligence to bear on the solving of problems. 

The only fair and rational solution is to end government funding, in whatever manifestation, of higher education. The result will be a collapse of cost, as colleges and universities compete for students based on quality, cost, and ability to pay, and both institutions and families search for more cost-effective ways to prepare young people for a productive life; scholarships and student loans will be privately funded and thus tied to future earning ability; bloated colleges will shed useless courses and requirements as they cut costs to attract students; and government spending will fall, leaving more money in the hands of those who earned it. 

More fundamentally, government subsidization of higher education is immoral, because it is funded by forcibly seizing money from productive citizens. So, let's forget about this horrendously damaging bill. Instead, let's get at the root of the problem—government funding.

The abysmally low college graduation rates that Cryan laments—less than 50% in many cases, he notes—should also be no surprise. Why wouldn't so many unprepared kids dive into college, given the flood of easy money available through government programs? How many of these kids could have gained occupational skills more consistent with their potential and/or interests if they (or their parents) had to foot the bill the old fashioned way—without any artificially easy path to tuition money?

Related Reading:

End, Don't Reduce, Federal Student Higher Education Funding

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