Milton Friedman on “Free” College

Sixty years ago Milton Friedman made the case in “The Role of Government in Education” that since individuals reap the benefits of college degrees, whether personally, professionally, or both, they should pay for them.

By 1979 Friedman noted that higher education subsidies had become such an Ivory Tower boondoggle, higher education should be taxed to help offset the negative effects. Were Friedman alive today, he’d likely be more convinced than ever. Consider a recent example from Arizona.

This month the Grand Canyon State became the first state to require that high school students must pass the same citizenship test immigrants must pass to become naturalized. Meanwhile over at Arizona State University’s Tempe campus, the English department is offering such classes as “the problem of whiteness.” As Campus Reform’s Lauren Clark reports:

At Arizona State University (ASU), students can now learn about the “problem of whiteness” in America.

The public university is offering an English class to its students this semester called “Studies in American Literature/Culture: U.S. Race Theory & the Problem of Whiteness.”

According to the class description on ASU’s website, students will be reading The Possessive Investment in WhitenessCritical Race TheoryEveryday Language of White RacismPlaying in the Dark, and The Alchemy of Race and Rights. ...

The course, first reported by the Pundit Press, is taught by Lee Bebout, an assistant professor of English at ASU. According to his faculty page, critical race theory is one of his research interests.

Bebout, who is white, has previously taught classes titled “Transborder Chicano Literature,” “Adv Studies Theory/Criticism,” and “American Ethnic Literature,” among others.

Keep in mind that as of fiscal year 2013, ASU (Tempe) received more than $24,000 in core revenue per full-time student—largely subsidized by taxpayers in the form of government appropriations, grants, and financial aid. Rather than use those funds to enrich undergraduates’ understanding of our core Founding principles, we have what one ASU student aptly describes as:

“... the significant double standard of higher education institutions,” James Malone, a junior economics major, told Campus Reform. “They would never allow a class talking about the problem of ‘blackness.’ And if they did, there would be uproar about it. But you can certainly harass people for their apparent whiteness.”

Our colleges and universities should be places of higher learning that help prepare graduates for life outside of the Ivory Tower—not taxpayer subsidized incubators of narrow, partisan agendas.

But if President Obama’s America’s College Promise of “free” college takes hold (thankfully, at this point it’s unlikely—here and here), that’s exactly what we’re likely to get.

Vicki E. Alger is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and Senior Fellow and Director of the Women for School Choice Project at the Independent Women’s Forum. She is the author of the Independent book, Failure.
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