Fiscal Responsibility Extends to Educational Choices
As the new presidential administration is preparing to take power in January 2021, many Democrats are attempting to persuade Biden to cancel college debt via executive order. While canceling college debt is not the most execrable public policy imaginable, it should not be at the top of any administration’s agenda. What should be at the top of the Biden administration’s agenda is taking care of those who are genuinely indigent—the people whose suffering politicians are almost trained to ignore. The top of the public policy agenda should not be geared towards helping ambitious yuppies who have a lot of debt but are not worried about how they are going to pay rent.
While there are many issues that need to be considered with respect to the prices of tuition at colleges and universities, which go more towards financing bloated bureaucracy and frivolous campus spending than improving education, it is important to note that consumers do have the power to make intelligent decisions. While higher education on the whole is admittedly getting more expensive by the day, the fact of the matter is that there are still colleges and universities that are affordable, and we should be encouraging people to attend those affordable institutions, as opposed to pushing the imbecilic scam that the only places where serious learning occurs is at name-brand schools.
In many ways, attending a community college or a state school and being taught by a professor with a Ph.D. (or a master’s degree holder who is an expert practitioner) is far superior to being taught by a nervous teaching assistant/Ph.D. student at a larger university whose main priority is passing comprehensive exams and completing a dissertation. If one actually cares about the quality of education that one receives, as opposed to simply caring about what people will think about the school on one’s resume, community colleges and state universities should be a no-brainer. It is unfortunate, however, that many people believe that the only reason to attend a less-selective college is because of inferior intelligence, and that attending an elite school for undergraduate studies provides unimpeachable proof of superlative intelligence. This kind of truly moronic thinking is why certain famous Wharton graduates with questionable literacy skills, a manifest lack of knowledge, and a palpable dearth of intellectual curiosity can still brag about possessing superior intelligence.
Far too many people have also bought into the delusion that Ivy League degrees or their fancy equivalents are essentially irrevocable entry tickets into “the one percent.” They have been snookered by the cheap myth that sitting in class next to a senator’s son or a foreign president’s daughter means that one will have the same life trajectory as those children of privilege. The people who enthusiastically believe these delusions and myths about social mobility are the same ones who will also talk eloquently about all the “-isms” that exist in society today, and how there are structural arrangements in place that help to maintain the current social order. To think that Ivy League credentials shatter the structural impediments that many on the lower end of the socioeconomic totem pole face is contrary to reason and evidence.
It is common knowledge that African Americans with college degrees are more likely to be unemployed than similarly educated people from other backgrounds. Research also shows that black people who attend elite schools do not receive the same employment opportunities as their fellow alumni of other races. In a 2015 study in Social Forces, Gaddis found that black people with elite credentials are offered inferior jobs and only compete with white graduates who do not attend elite institutions. Someone can take from this study that it makes the most sense for black people to attend the very best schools that money can buy in order to have the best chance at employment, or someone could take from this that it is much better to attend that most affordable institution and make oneself uniquely valuable in the marketplace through knowledge and talent, since resumes with elite schools on them do not close the gap they are purported to close. The people who take the former route are begging for debt cancellation. The people who take the latter route have the opportunity to proceed with a future unencumbered by ruinous debt.
The argument here, by an uncareful reader, could easily be misconstrued as being anti-intellectual. The point here is not that receiving an education is a net negative, nor is the point that people should not attend Ivy League schools and their equivalents. If one can afford to attend, then there is no doubt that Harvard would be an amazing educational experience. However, the argument being made is that one can receive a solid education at community colleges and state universities at a fraction of the cost, and that cost considerations matter vis-à-vis obtaining higher education. People need to exercise fiscal responsibility with respect to their educational choices.
Asking the government to bail out people who imprudently loaded up on student debt in pursuit of permanent status in “the one percent” by virtue of having an elite degree is not taking care of the most vulnerable. It is bizarre that education seems to be one of the few sectors of spending where many think fiscal responsibility can be summarily dismissed by wave of hand. It is almost as if the second one mentions the word “education,” it is perfectly justifiable and rational to spend a small fortune every semester. People with elite degrees with large debt that they cannot pay off are not suffering from forces beyond their control. They essentially gambled their financial futures and lost. Such people are the educational equivalents of those who “need” the Louis Vuitton luggage with the ‘LV’ logo all over it in order to ostentatiously display wealth when the austere Samsonite luggage is readily available. They are showoffs. It makes little sense to run up a credit card then act like you have been wronged when it is time to pay the bill that you knew you would eventually have to pay—with interest—when you started the spending.
Education is a powerful and necessary tool for social mobility in the Western world only to the extent that it provides the knowledge necessary to be competent and competitive, which can then enable one to earn, save, and invest. College education ceases to be an effective tool of social mobility when it also provides crippling debt that ruins the financial futures of those who have it. Student loan debt does not occur by osmosis. People willingly choose to accrue such debt. The sooner people understand that bad choices are at the heart of student loan debt, the sooner we can encourage the next generation to make better choices.