Although I haven’t probed my memory, I can’t remember a policy that’s been lauded, even by people ostensibly attempting to be objective, as uncritically as Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s vote-buying plan to force Rhode Island taxpayers to pay for two years of courses at any of the state’s government-run colleges or universities for anybody. It is as if the subject somehow flips an emotional switch that turns off the critical-thinking module in people’s brains.
Dan McGowan’s related article — really more of an opinion piece — is discouraging, even depressing, in this regard. This paragraph is the most telling:
Students will have some skin in the game.
A lot of people are probably wondering why the state wouldn’t cover the entire cost of URI and RIC rather than just two years if the price tag is relatively low. One answer, of course, is that offering free four-year college could make the whole program just a little too expensive for state lawmakers to swallow. But perhaps just as important, students at the two four-year colleges will have a major incentive for staying on track during their first two years of school. If a student knows he or she won’t see another college bill as long as they make it to their junior year in two years, it’s safe to assume they’ll do everything they can to get there.
Note, for one thing, that he believes that the most obvious thing for people to wonder is why the buy-off isn’t bigger. Not whether a failing state can afford the program. Not whether it is the government’s role to pay for everybody’s college. But why the government can’t give kids more scraps from its largess.
More fundamentally worrisome, though, is McGowan’s statement as fact that students will have “major incentive” and work harder for two years in order to get the two free ones. Why should anybody believe that young adults will take seriously something that’s given to them so cheaply when they’ve already proven that they’re willing to drop out of college with tons of debt and without having achieved the degree that should open up career doors? This buy-two-get-two-free deal devalues the degree.
Worse, the entire ideology behind this policy devalues us. Having to make adult decisions about investments shapes an adult mentality. Deciding to work multiple jobs while pursuing a degree builds character and reinforces determination. For cheap political points, Raimondo is reducing us all to children (or ignorant serfs) by making education something for government to give, not for people to pursue and achieve.
As we transform young adults into old children, look for a boom in the dumb, frivolous majors that land twenty-somethings behind coffee shop counters worse off, financially, than if they’d never entered college. McGowan laments that “too many students start college, take on debt and drop out for one reason or another,” but he assumes too much to insinuate that the reason is the financial difficulty of finishing. Arguably, the larger reason students aren’t graduating from college is that we’re pushing too many of them into it in the first place — unprepared and with no real goal in sight.
This policy will make the problem worse.
The myth that the journalism industry likes to tell people is that its practitioners bring an occupational skepticism to the public debate — “if your mother tells you she loves you, check it out,” and all that. But when Mama Gina tells us that we can have something for free, well, the flashlights go out and the footlights go on.