26 Oct '15     home | previous

Bernie Sanders and Tuition-free College

This past week, Bernie Sanders had an article in the Washington Post titled "Make college free for all." He mentioned that "In Finland, Denmark, Ireland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Mexico, public colleges and universities remain tuition-free." He quoted Republican President Rutherford Hays in 1877 saying in his inaugural address that "Universal suffrage should rest upon universal education" and that a "liberal and permanent provision should be made for the support of free schools." Sanders wrote that we have universal access to free, public schools across the United States for kindergarten through 12th grade, created by "populist pressure from the progressive movement, beginning in the 1890s," and he observed that "a college degree is the new high school diploma."

Responding to the Sanders article someone wrote:

Bernie believes that education, like healthcare, is a right and not a privilege for just those that can afford it.

Someone else expressed a common objection in the US to money being spent on the common good – taxes:

Sorry Bernie, the taxpayers don't need to be stuck paying for everyone's college education. It's bad enough that we have to pay for Kindergarten and all of the Special Ed programs that really belong under Social Services.

Someone else mentions the German model:

If you follow the German model only 1 in 21 students enters a University. In fact Grades 5 and 6 form an orientation phase (Orientierungsstufe) during which students, their parents and teachers decide which path the students should follow. Most students end in grade 10 at which point they enter a vocational school or an apprentice with a company (not paid by the government).

The Sanders campaign speaks of the Germans having eliminated tuition last year because they believe that charging students $1,300 per year was discouraging Germans from going to college. Next year, Chile will do the same.

Germany in 2014 had tax revenues that were 44 percent of its GDP, compared to 17.4 percent for the United States. Germans accept paying taxes more than do people in the US. Higher taxation is their creation, Germany being a democracy. Perhaps they fear less than do Americans that their money will be lost to corruption. Germany does well on the 2014 Corruption Perception Index but just a little better than the US, at 74. Other high tax countries are doing better: Finland at 89, Denmark 92, Sweden 87, Norway's 86. Russia comes in at 27.

I can't say anything about corruption's association with lesser education, but perhaps better education and a greater interest in the common good do correlate. The Finns are reputed to be better educated than Americans. If you don't believe this do an online research using the words "finns" or "finland" and "education." Those in the US on the political right speak with chauvinism about people in the US being in general an exceptional people. In my opinion there are many great people in the United States, some of them with just average education. There is much more to being excellent than a formal education. Ben Carson's mother, Sonya Carson, is a case in point. But Sanders speaks of a reason other than reputation for advancing ourselves in education. Sanders:

In a highly competitive global economy, we need the best-educated workforce in the world. It is insane and counter-productive to the best interests of our country and our future, that hundreds of thousands of bright young people cannot afford to go to college, and that millions of others leave school with a mountain of debt that burdens them for decades.

And coming out of high tech industries these days is their experience and recognition of the benefits of learning in the liberal arts. "That 'Useless' Liberal Arts Degree Has Become Tech's Hottest Ticket," is the title of an article in Forbes, July 29, 2015. This brings to my mind Ronald Reagan's speech to Iowa Republicans on October 25, 1967. He spoke of young people having the wisdom and intelligence "to see to it that they want a society where they can fly as high and as far as their strength can take them." His audience applauded. By high and far they might have been thinking about skill in a professional or business success, and money, but it could apply to advancing oneself with a breadth and depth of mind concerning people, or a good understanding of history. Sanders could have included such a person among those benefitting from attending a university.

Getting educated is not like buying a commodity. It's not like paying for a car and just driving it away. People paying tuition today may think they are buying an education, but what they are getting depends on what they put into it. The more respect we have for learning the more likely we are to apply ourselves and enjoy it. What Bernie Sanders wants is a better opportunity for people to apply themselves. That is what the GI Bill did at the close of World War II. It revolutionized the nation educationally. It was an opportunity for Korean War vets like me, the son of a minimally educated automobile mechanic. I appreciate Sanders advocating free college tuition for everyone, and I'd be willing to pay a little more in taxes as my share in paying for it.

Copyright © 2016 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.