Free Community College!

Why is there such a thing as COST? Why isn’t everything just free?

Cost is a way of showing the relative value of things. When we see that one thing costs more than another, we can take it as an indication that the thing that costs more is of more value. Now in every situation we value things in accord with our own situation. Some things have a high price attached to them and yet in our situation, or given our worldview/values/principles, are worthless to us. Or the other way around, it may be that society puts a low value on something we consider a matter of life and death.

What about education? The President has just suggested that community college should be free. In light of cost consideration, a couple of considerations occur to me (I’m not talking about the cost to the federal or state tax payers who will fund this).

First, when we say of a thing, “the cost to you is zero,” what are we saying of the value of that thing? Will students universally esteem a thing for its good qualities even if the cost message is that it is of low value? Some will say, Well, if it’s not going to cost me anything, I better go get some. For some, that will surely be a good thing. For others, it will be a waste of their time (which isn’t free).

Second, and directly related to the first, has making pre-college education free raised it in the esteem of students? Have students universally said to themselves, “Wow! The government is being so generous, offering me this tremendous good at no cost to me, that I will surely avail myself of every opportunity therein available!” I’m not seeing it.

Third, some will hear the message “Free college” and act on the theory that it will cost them nothing. Free means free, after all. But college that is worth something will be difficult. It will push students and expect things of them that are outside their comfort zones. Unlike high school, college will expect them to function as adults, no longer as children. (Well, if current trends continue or are widespread, I’m probably wrong here. Colleges are today expected to coddle students and act in loco parentis for these young people.) The cost in things other than money will be high. Will students accustomed to FREE! be willing to be educated? We’ll see.

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