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Is College Overrated?


If you think community colleges are expensive right now, wait until they are free. That is my assessment of President Obama’s plan to provide free community college education.

In all actuality, the president shouldn’t be meddling in this issue to begin with because community colleges are state institutions. Moreover, in addition to the cost of subsidizing the cost of tuition and books, Mr. Obama ignores the fact that here in California, the state itself doesn’t fully support the cost of community colleges. As evidenced by Measure S, local taxpayers are expected to shoulder the burden of building capacity and maintaining capital assets. Finally, the president’s proposal, which is expected to cost taxpayers tens of billions of dollars, belies the real question: What would this initiative actually be worth to society as a whole?

In my father’s generation, a high school education served to set apart a job applicant. In my generation, it was a bachelor’s degree. Today, many employers require a master’s degree. But there has always been another qualification that has invariably trumped education, and that is experience. Job experience to be exact.

Having been a former personnel director, I can tell you that often professionals in the field know full well that advanced degrees and even relevant job experience may not be necessary qualifications to guarantee an applicant’s success if given the chance. The dirty little secret is that for the most part, requiring non-technical advanced degrees and years of experience is simply a convenient filter used in the interview process to whittle down the number of applicants to a manageable level for the purpose of conducting interviews.

What does this mean in practical terms? If Mr. Obama were to succeed and give every person a free community college education, then such a degree could save the student a boatload of money by virtue of not having to pay for the same at a four-year college, but it would still be irrelevant in a hiring process due to the ubiquitous nature of the same.

The one exception to this would be technical degrees obtained at a community college. The value of a technical degree, however, without any relevant job experience, is also limited based upon the laws of supply and demand. For instance, there is currently a critical nursing shortage, so a two-year degree in nursing can land an applicant a job. However, a simple associate degree is nearly worthless in today’s economy in regards to landing a job, as is today’s spectacularly worthless bachelor’s degrees pawned on gullible students in non-technical fields. Further, the initiative would do nothing to build additional capacity for all these additional community college grads at four-year institutions.

The best thing the president could do to help people get better jobs? Roll back dozens of executive orders and regulatory schemes that stand in the way of job and wealth creation in America. This would include addressing our open border situation in order to limit foreign competition in the marketplace.

First published in the Santa Barbara News Press


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