Yesterday's New York Times included a Room for Debate argument over free college, plugging into one of the few education related issues that (some) of the Presidential candidates have been (sort of) willing to (kind of) talk about. The debate unleashed a hurricane of irony from the commenters on the "anti" side.
Here's Andrew P. Kelly from the American Enterprise Institute arguing that "The Problem Is That Free College Isn't Free." Kelly argues that free college is a "flawed policy," because rather than being free "it simply shifts costs from students to taxpayers." If "public generosity" doesn't keep pace, then colleges won't be able to keep pace with the level of students, and they'll have to make cuts to meet their budgets.
Second, Kelly argues, " free college plans assume that tuition prices are the main obstacle to student success," and ignores other obstacles to student college success, like students who aren't fully prepared or who lack the personal resources to fully follow through.
Weighing in against free college is also our old buddy Mike Petrilli from the Fordham Institute, arguing that this would be "A Needless Windfall for Affluent Voters and State Institutions."
Nothing in life is truly free — but don’t tell that to dogmatic liberals
and their pandering politicians, who would turn the first two years of
college into a new universal entitlement.
Petrilli goes on to toss out some more of the standard old data points about college preparedness, including the NAEP claim that only 40% of 12th graders are prepared for college (a bogus piece of data that presumes that NAEP knows what "college-ready" means, even though previous research finds half the students they labeled unready going on to get college degrees). He also helpfully suggests that college not admit students "who are clearly unprepared academically and therefor have virtually no shot at leaving with a real degree or credentials."
On the one hand, this is a logical extension of Petrilli's thesis that some Strivers deserve an education and Those Other Students should be left behind in struggling public schools. Petrilli has long argued that education should be about separating Strivers from Those People, going so far as to defend Eva Moskowitz's push-out policies. So it makes sense that he would argue that only certain people deserve to be in college. Some day someone needs to explain exactly what society should do with all those undeserving non-strivers. But there's no irony in this part of Petrilli's argument.
On the other hand, the rest of the anti-free-college argument seems vaguely like...hmm.. the argument against charter schools.
The promise of the charter movement has been that we can open free private schools for an added cost of $0.00 over what we're currently spending. The pushback has been that no, charter schools are not free and to exist they must drain resources from other places, including the existing public school system, so that the cost of sending K-12 students to a private school is sloughed off on the taxpayers. (The addition of pricey administrative costs alone guarantees that charters add to the overall cost of K-12 education.)
Kelly's critique-- that free school assumes that getting the students into those schools is all that's needed for success-- exactly mirrors the assertion of charter fans that all we need to do is drop the barriers that keep K-12 students from entering charter schools in order for success to blossom. He says that their are other obstacles to their success that must be addressed before students can succeed; when pro-public school folks say that about charters, they are accused of making excuses and blaming poverty.
Meanwhile, as far as Petrilli's lead goes--
Nothing in life is truly free-- but don't tell that to dogmatic charter fans and their pandering politicians, who would turn twelve years of private school into a new universal entitlement.
There. I fixed that for you.