Nothing is truly ‘free’



It’s easy to tune out criticism of President Barack Obama.

After all, there’s a multitude of people who are predisposed to criticize because of his party, his ideology or his race.

That shouldn’t inoculate him against any criticism, however, and there’s plenty to be had.

One of the more dangerous ideas the president repeated during his State of the Union speech is this notion of “free education.”

It’s an idea that’s been around far longer than he has and will be around long after he’s gone. Such proletariat pandering may play well in Peoria, Ill., but it doesn’t hold well against economics.

First of all, what do they even mean by “free”? I got a “free” Qdoba dinner this week, but only because I visited so many other times that they still made money on the deal.

Will the professors teach for “free”? Will the colleges donate the buildings, publishers donate their textbooks, utility companies rescind their fees?

Who will pay for the gas, internet access, ScanTrons, Blackboard? What about rent, food, the opportunity costs of lost time and wages?

And aren’t we depriving the professors, publishers and utility workers of their hard-earned wages?

With apologies to Inigo Montoya, I do not think free education means what you think it means.

First of all, nothing in life is free, and nothing occurs in isolation. The president has declined to discuss a price tag, but estimates indicate “free” community college would cost around $60 billion over 10 years.

This is on top of the roughly $68 billion already spent on federal aid last year – not even counting student loans.

Secondly, it’s a questionable investment at best. The average graduation rate at 2-year community colleges is only 28 percent, of which only 20 percent go on to earn a bachelor’s degree.

Don’t get me wrong, I started at a community college myself. But the numbers don’t indicate it’s a strong investment – even if students pursue a field more profitable than, say, women’s studies.

Third, what happens when large numbers of “free” graduates hit the workforce? As Colorado’s pot farmers found out, too much of a good thing really can be a bad thing.

After the state legalized pot, so many farmers rushed to grow marijuana that they grew too much, and now they can’t sell it.

No one is “free” from the laws of supply and demand. Unless there are new jobs created for these “free” graduates, the value of those degrees will plummet and there’ll be a lot of “free” degrees walking around with a lot of “free” time.

There may be a hidden incentive, of course. 56 percent of college faculty identify as liberal or far left as opposed to just 16 percent conservative or far right.

A mass crowd of unemployed community college graduates taught by liberals and beholden to a certain political party? Oh, the opportunities.

As Americans, we’re awfully caught up in a discussion of our rights without a lot of discussion about our responsibilities. We don’t deserve to have things we want for free. Rather, we’re free to pursue them.

Maybe it’s the taxes taken out of our paychecks to give us free stuff that really keep us from being free.