Free tuition

I guess I am at odds with President Barack Obama and Bill Gates regarding their educational philosophies and proposed educational program. Gates is more amorphous. (He's rich enough to afford to be.) Essentially what they propose is all high school graduates be given two "free" years of postsecondary education at the community college level. This seems as an attempt to make it up for the parents who cannot possibly afford to send their children to college (and of course, gain votes for the Democratic Party). These are the people who Obama calls middle class. The real middle class, that is those who hold down jobs with some job security and pay their bills on time, aren't necessarily blessed with means to pay for this either.

First, let us look at some stats regarding high school graduation rates in this country, which bear directly on the prospect of doing well in college. Here's the rub. Half of Hispanic young people don't graduate from high school. Black young people do better with 75 percent grads. For white kids, it is 90 percent. Only first-generation "imports" from Asia reach 95 percent. Who among those who don't graduate from high school will be offered this free ride to college?

It's already known more than half of those enrolling in community colleges don't see it through to graduation. Whether this is ill preparedness, financial difficulty or other detracting features isn't exactly clear. It's also known many if not most who borrow money to attend junior colleges will not pay back their loans. This financial offering seems to be Obama's dodge to relieve them and their parents of the considerable financial burden even before the students enroll.

I must digress for a moment. What Obama calls "the middle class" has little relationship to what sociologists call middle class or average citizens believe it to be. Those who Obama label as middle class are the poor, the same poor he wants the rich in America to subsidize (another topic altogether). Among these people, there might be many middle-class aspirants, but they are definitely not middle class yet. Obama wants to fuel their aspirations (at public expense, of course).

The fact 12 years or more of free public education through high school is available to young people up to this date, no matter how disinterested the student, has little or no bearing on whether or not an additional two years should be made available. The merits, if any, rest otherwise. Would the students who get this largesse become better-educated citizens? Would they in fact over a lifetime be able to earn more? Would they be able because of this to pay taxes commensurate with the cost of educating them to this level? Otherwise, what they are being offered is a free lunch with no strings attached -- for them personally anyway.

Actually, this prospect has insidious characteristics. It resembles a sneak-thief operation. "Break it to them gently." Don't traffic in any real debate about it. They (the taxpayer, of course) will never know what happened until it's too late to reverse it. Sound familiar?

Gary J. Whitesell,