Certainly some of the post-WW2 public financial support of college education came out of Cold War attitudes–e.g., the NDEA (National Defense Educational Act) and the post-Sputnik enthusiasm for science/engineering training. (I got caught in that but resisted the completely inappropriate push toward engineering from my blinkered high-school advisor.) But there was also a big dose of New-Deal-style social-mobility idealism. My blue-collar, WW2 vet father chose not to use the GI Bill for college, but he and Ma were determined that their kids should get as much education as they could handle–and not just for entry into a step-up job market, but because education was a general Good Thing.
In New York there was support for those aspirations in the form of an affordable, fairly open state college system (education, agriculture, home economics, forestry, hotel-administration programs), along with Regents scholarships and fellowships that allowed me to attend a private liberal-arts college and later get started in grad school.
My educational timeline: started college in 1962; Ph.D.–from a midwestern state university–in 1975. The support environment has changed since then, with direct state funding of university systems–even in an “education” state like Minnesota–declining, leaving the “customer” to make up the difference. (While at the same time administrative, compliance, and physical-plant overhead has swollen.)
The free-college-for-all model is attractive, but it masks another set of issues: what to do about those students who can’t do college-level work, even by standards that are much lower than they were two generations ago. I’ve been able to observe student capabilities for more than a half-century from both sides of the desk. Knappa’s suggestion upthread that “we could increase the number of people in college by 50% without lowering standards” does not match what I see right now in my wife’s undergrad classes–and the “we don’t have room for them in the dorms or the classrooms” assertion does not sort well with the general scramble to attract and retain students I see going on.
I ascribe that thinking to the GOP intellectual elites that gleefully manipulate the ‘common man’. It’s also from universities fostering the attitude of looking down their noses at the ‘mere community college and trade school graduates’. This attitude is what’s thrust people with a lot of theoretical knowledge and not any real world experience into positions of authority and control. There’s something to be said for practical experience and training - apprenticeships, if you will.
Society, social, socialism - aren’t we headed down a slippery slope! /s
"But, but, those people will take unfair advantage and drain the country dry! /s
I’m sure you’d get a lot more people going to college just to learn and follow their passions if there wasn’t a massive financial barrier in place as well. And a more educated workforce means more societal advancement and innovation (for better or for worse).
I know how the right loves to pooh-pooh diversity as being some sort of front for white male genocide or whatever conspiracy theory is being promoted by Breitbart or Fox News, but when you have people from diverse backgrounds and ways of thinking being enabled to try new things in different ways that’s how new things get discovered.
I got a substandard education from a shitty for-profit university (that shall not be named, but fuck them) so I probably wouldn’t be eligible for any debt cancellation but I’d love to see a majority of student debt forgiven. Having that boat anchor around your neck does not put you on a good path.
I think that’s largely a myth, too, especially given how many of us actually work in technical colleges or community colleges. That’s not to say that academics at elite schools don’t look down on these “lesser than” institutions, because that’s a thing, but the vast majority of academia is not at elite institutions.
I think that’s just the power structure replicating itself. The current president is a great example of that, someone with no real world experience governing is now the president of the US. That came about because he was already in a privileged position, with access to the halls of power already, not because he came up through academia.
I never said other wise, but there is also something to be said for learning to be a better thinker. It’s not a competition here. We can easily do both. And with the thing I noted above, the expansion of academia, that included more people coming from working class backgrounds coming into the academy, instead of just the elite. Having phds who come from working class backgrounds is a net benefit, as it brings in a different perspective, hence making the scholarship they do much more grounded in reality. What we’re really talking about is taking academia back to what it was when the elites were the only ones who could afford to get an advanced degree. Given how we have a much broader perspective in the academy, and how much wonderful scholarship we’ve gotten out of having someone other than rich, white, Christian men do this kind of knowledge work, I think expanding access to education of ALL kinds is a net positive.
I will say, I do bristle when people assume that what I and other academics do isn’t “real” work. I assure you, it very much is real work. Many of us busted our asses and struggled (in a number of ways). It sort of feels like all that struggle and work is being belittled, since it’s not physical labor. I in no way look down on blue collar workers, because I was raised by blue collar workers.
I would like to point out that, as un-tenured university faculty, expanding college access could only improve my job prospects and financial situation. So, you know, point that indignation somewhere else.
If our colleges and universities were able to absorb the influx of new students created by the G.I. Bill in the 1940s then there’s no reason to think they couldn’t adapt to handle the increased enrollment created by tuition-free admission.
Let me ask this…50 years ago did the majority or minority of the American working force have college degrees or just high school diplomas?
The answer is, just high school diplomas. Because the jobs in the market only required it because that was enough education needed. That education was and still is free.
Yet today, you need a god damn master’s degree to be the fry cook. If companies are going to require and demand higher education and not train new hires for said positions, then that education should be provided for free.
In other words…the primary education we all know and love of k-12 is no longer the totality of primary education. A 4 year college degree is now part of primary education and should be either A) provided at no cost or B) subsidized heavily.
Imagine if Amazon, Apple, or GE just paid the same tax rate any of us paid…we’d have plenty to pay for everyone to get a college degree.
University education is indeed (nearly) free here in Finland, and you’re even entitled to government subsidy if your studies are progressing at a pace. There’s quite a lot of competition for places studying the popular stuff, such as medicine, law, psychology etc., though, so you are in no way guaranteed to be able to study whatever you want.
Then why the hell don’t they apply that to the biggest socialized enterprise of them all, the military? Where they spend billions on a monopoly, instead of letting the free market sort it out, by having competing armies?
I paid an obscene amount of money on student loans due to consolidating school loans with my eventual ex-wife that went to law school and then managed to dump a significant amount of her school debt on me, and I fully support tuition-free university and debt cancellation.
Just because I got shafted doesn’t mean I want that for future generations. End this shitty cycle of rising costs and adversarial student loans.