Will “free college” be like taxpayer sports stadiums?

Photo by Marvin Ronsdorf on Unsplash

When the owner of a professional sports teams decide their team needs a new stadium they’ll often seek tax-payer support in the form of tax-exempt municipal bonds. Their argument goes, “our new stadium will create jobs for the community and drive economic growth for the region, so tax-payers will come out on top by helping to fund our stadium”. This argument seems to win over the local government officials as an estimated 36 of the 45 sports stadiums built between 2000-2015 received some level of tax-payer support. This crony-capitalist acceptance by government officials runs counter to recurring research showing that the “economic payoff” of sports stadiums is largely a myth (U of Illinois study, Sports Jobs, and Taxes, and St. Louis Fed Reserve Bank). I’d guess few tax-payers would march through the streets demanding teams recieve free stadiums, but what about a more noble and meaningful cause like higher education.

Is it time for college tuition to be “free”? The rhetoric of many progressive politicians is resoundingly yes; most notably Bernie Sanders in his bid to be president in 2016. The argument goes that college is critical to driving economic opportunity for individuals, and more college-educated people would be better for the country, so college tuition should be free for all.

Is this true, or would tax-payer funded college education (i.e. “free”) be like tax-payer funded professional sports arenas?

In his WSJ op ed Think College is Expensive? Wait until it’s free, Jason Riley suggests that a free college might not be as much of a benefit to individuals or our society as some would have us believe. College tuition is only 20% of the cost of college considering there’s known costs such as room & board, dining hall and books and supplies, not to count the various hidden costs. What may be even more surprising is that based on work by economic historian Richard Vedder, as student aid becomes more generous college costs go up, not down. To compound the concern, much of the supposed benefit to individuals, particularly the lower-income students, may not be as beneficial as first thought with a decrease in the graduation rate of lower-income students. So would “free” college tuition actually deliver us into a better future, or would it simply pave a path to office for a handful of politicians and be an economic drag on our future.

Interested in taking action on either taxpayer stadiums or tuition? The most direct route is to contact your US Government Officials, which you can do here, and let them know where you stand. For stadiums, you can also stay up to date via the Mercatus center at George Mason University (recent article), and while contacting your Government Official tell them to take action again on Bill H.R.811.

Washington and Romulus

Looking for something to entertain myself with while I packed, I came across Mike Duncan’s The History of Rome. With short episodes (most about 15 min) and a depth of knowledge I quickly became hooked.

His 2nd episode, Youthful Indiscretions, covers the “life” of one of the mythical founding brothers of Rome, Romulus. Towards the end he highlights how Romulus likely wasn’t an actual person and yet so much of Rome’s beginnings are told as if this individual the key contributor

Mike relates this to George Washington, in how Washington’s fame has replaced our awareness of other important figures in US history. Such as Horatio Gates, who according to Mike, helped secure French support and thus a critical contribution to the fledgling nations success in the revolution.

Would we one day only remember Washington? In place of even other famous founding fathers like Hamilton, Madison and Jefferson?

Could, one day, US history look like Roman history? Where we no longer know The “whos”, “what’s” and “whys” of history and only know of the legendary hero Washington, who in a single crossing of the Delaware River, wrote the complete Constitution and upon landing grew the first great US cities from a handful of seeds of a fallen cherry tree?

Maybe we’re already on our way considering how little we seem to know about our own history. There’s much we could take away from this, but in the least, I’d hope we’d recognize that we don’t know as much as we think we do. We should be slow to assume we know the answer, and be willing to research before we react. It might be better to first assume No One Knows, and be more comprehensive in our understanding of past and present events.

Experience, an alternative education

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The world of higher education is full of opportunities and ideas for improvement, and it’s always interesting to discover unique ideas to address them. Isaac Morehouse came up with an interesting alternative to college in his Praxis Apprenticeship program. Praxis is an experience and project focused opportunity for high school graduates to jump straight into the world of business through a 6-month “boot camp” that includes working for a start-up.

This idea is like the unique and intensive MBA program Acton School of Business.

Although serving different markets, these two programs appear based on a similar philosophy that centers on an intensive and immersive curriculum paired with comprehensive educational support. Praxis is still early in it’s journey to change the field of education but if their graduates are as ambitious, driven and capable as Acton’s, there’s hope for a new avenue of higher ed.

To dig deeper into this way thinking, check out Seth Godin’s post on projects.