Rewards and Handouts

The Armory at Penn State, since torn down.
I’m not sure where I’d be today without an education, but I suspect it wouldn’t any place enviable. I probably wouldn’t even know what the word “enviable” meant, except I learned it in high school during the 1950s when a good public education was to be had by many.

Still, I am looking askance at President Obama’s proposal to provide free tuition for 9 million students attending community colleges nationwide. The president argues that education helps individuals rise to higher economic levels, which is in turn good for the country. The more you earn the more you spend and the more you pay in taxes.

But the proposal is fraught with problems. As The New York Times’ story reports, not everybody needs it, but everybody would get it. In order to keep it for the three-year maximum, a student would need a 2.5 average, which is trending toward a B minus. In other words, it’s a high C plus. Why not demand a B, a 3.0?

The problem goes deeper than that. It puts the faculty member in the position of deciding who continues on the gravy train and who doesn’t. We had a situation like this during the Vietnam War when males with high grades didn’t get drafted and faculty became the equivalent of draft boards.

I went to college with a government subsidy that had I not had would have meant 20 years in the Navy. But because of the G.I. Bill, I earned four years of tuition and got an undergraduate degree.

And that’s what’s missing from the president’s proposal: There is no requirement that the person getting the government largess earn it in the first place. Taxpayers might find the idea more palatable if they saw it as a reward for service rendered rather than a handout.