Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Business Political Power: Tuition in Post-Secondary Education

If "equality of opportunity" is to be a reality, not superficial rhetoric, then all post-secondary education, i.e. vocational training, community colleges, universities, and professional schools, should, as a matter of national public policy, for qualified students, be made free of tuition.

Such a policy should be financed by federal grants to the state governments, or depending on the situation, federal grants to students. The financing should come from the federal individual income tax, with higher and more progressive rates.

It makes no societal sense to maintain financial barriers between individuals and training and education that can increase their future contributions to society. Future contributions are a matter of investment.

The United States, beginning in the 1830's, pioneered in the idea of free public education. This was long one of the great attractions for immigration to the United States. But, unlike quite a number of other countries, the United States has never carried this principle beyond the secondary-school level.

Instead, it displays an enormous patchwork of public and private scholarships, which require a vast assortment of public and private bureaucracies, and family financial aid forms, to decide eligibility. All this is a considerable and unnecessary cost to society.

This American situation reflects, in two respects, the individualistic political culture of the United States:

(1) One is the inherited individualistic theory that education is for the individual only, not society, and should be viewed as an investment of tuition money by the individual, analogous to investing in a small business.

(2) A second, however, is the self-interest of much of the American middle classes in not bearing the tax costs of expanding educational opportunities for lower-income groups. Yet the extent of this attitude is influenced, again, by the individualistic political culture of the United States. The proof is the fact that in much of Western Europe, where governmental authority and activity are far more accepted, middle classes are far more willing to set aside narrow self-interest and pay far higher taxes in order to equalize access to both healthcare and post-secondary education.

What, then, are the attitudes within the American business community? Here there is schizophrenia.

Many individual American business leaders have long advocated, in urgent declarations, upgrading of the American labor force and improvement in American public education on grounds that this is necessary if the U. S. economy is to remain competitive.

A huge part of the American business community, however, measured by the behavior of the Republican Party, perpetually emits a chorus of demands for cuts in "entitlements," lower taxes, and smaller government, and persists with massive propaganda designed to promote within the general population blind hostility to taxes and governmental activity.

The United States would be better off if its great business oligarchy were displaced by a socialist transformation, of the type proposed in detail above.

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  1. Funny how I hear many conservatives complain about America lagging behind in folks trained in math and science -- yet in the same breath griping about paying high taxes for education. You illustrate the inconsistency nicely.
    I don't think I ever considered the huge benefit higher education is to society as the best reason for paying for it. No pain, no gain.

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