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Obama's Answer to Rising College Costs Is Free College

Obama's Answer to Rising College Costs Is Free College

Ron Hart is a syndicated columnist and humorist.

President Obama came to Knoxville, Tenn., last week to give away $60 billion more in taxpayer money. He said he wants to give most everyone free community college. What a guy! There is nothing more magnanimous than giving away other people's borrowed money to political supporters.

Obama was elected with the support of college kids, the unemployed and union members, the same cohorts who elected Budweiser "The King of Beers," and for the same reason. Obama and Bud both provide a temporary, drunken, feel-good shield from reality – until you sober up, and the tab comes due.

In a Pew study, 57 percent of parents say higher education no longer provides value for the money spent. Parents have to start considering outrageous college costs within the framework of the basic tenets of economics. That way, their kids do not become tenants in their parents' basements.

Student loan defaults are near record highs, and student debt burdens many. The first thing graduates learn in the real world is to watch to whom they lend money. If federally funded student loans teach them anything, it's how to loan shark.

Students now pay only 16 percent of the cost of community college. It's not like anyone who wants to work cannot attend. Pell Grants already cover lower-income students, so Obama's speech and promises ring hollow.

He already said, in 2010, that he was going to see to it that we had 5 million more community college graduates by 2020. According to the American Association of Community Colleges, enrollments are down since Obama's proclamation: another O-Harmony success story.

Obama is right about encouraging two-year technical degrees. We need a skilled workforce. We don't need another English Literature grad from Belmont University with a $150,000 sheepskin that says he or she studied Comparative Lit.

I guess it's nice to have a BA in Chaucer Studies in order to impress your co-workers at Starbucks. But that degree comes with crippling student loan debt. College has priced itself out of the market for the value it provides. Years of wasteful liberal academic spending have increased the cost of college at twice the rate of inflation, with no accountability for its product.

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With federal money and student loan handouts to any knucklehead who applies, college costs have skyrocketed. Colleges, like the University of Michigan, have 53 percent more administrators than faculty. At least 40 college presidents make over $1 million per year. Penn State's president makes about $3 million. For what? Running Jerry Sandusky youth football camps?

According to The Wall Street Journal, in-state tuition and fees for public colleges have been rising by about 8 percent annually – more than twice the rate of inflation over the past 30 years. In 1982, my undergrad degree cost $10,000. Had college costs risen at the rate of the consumer price index, that degree today would cost $21,000. Instead, it now costs about $60,000. If colleges cared about kids, they would have kept costs down.

There is also an oversupply of educated and debt-burdened graduates. A recent study showed that 44 percent of graduates with a BA degree were in jobs that did not require one.

Four-year colleges ought to switch to three years, anyway, or, as students would see it, one less college football season.

There are great public/private partnerships, like one Tennessee's Chattanooga State University has formed with Volkswagen. Chattanooga VW workers make about $27 an hour in nonunion wages and benefits. Joint venturing with technical schools makes sense. But that was Tennessee's idea, and the feds don't need to monkey with it. Federal government's involvement never makes anything better.

My home state of Tennessee gets a lot right and does so with zero state income tax. It's called the Volunteer State because Tennessee knows it can't make you live there. You have to want to. That's why the auto industry flees the unionized North for innovative and cooperative Southern states.

Why should taxpayers further support a costly, government-run education system that has failed us? To paraphrase P.J. O'Rourke: If you think community college is expensive now, just wait till it's free.

Resourceful folks can pay for college. The London Mail reported on an online site called "Sponsor a Scholar," where older men give college grants and aid to young women in exchange for sex. And a Brazilian co-ed auctioned her virginity for $700,000 to pay for college. If these women are not political science majors who end up in Washington, they have missed their calling.

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Ron Hart is a syndicated op-ed humorist, award-winning author and TV/radio commentator. Email Ron@RonaldHart.com or visit www.RonaldHart.com

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