Brian McNicoll

From 1986 to 2006, college tuition rose 68 percent. Did enrollment collapse? Why no. It increased 48 percent. What’s more, more of those students have required remedial courses and more failed to graduate within six years than any group before them.

Eliminating federal aid would not harm deserving students. Philanthropies donate millions now to help underprivileged students and probably would do more if government got out of the way. And to earn those scholarships, students would have to prove they are strong, disciplined and dedicated to a specific plan to turn their education into further success.

But it would force colleges to be more responsive to their students. In recent years, colleges have realized there is just as much if not more money in catering not only to serious students who want to pursue serious courses of study but to others who don’t have a plan but feel the need to meet family and community expectations by attending college.

College is more than a trade school for those who seek work in the professions. There is room in this world – indeed, the world requires it – for a Pondering Class. But it is unlikely removing college loans will stop ponderers from pondering, nor prospective engineers from pursuing their chosen profession. For the engineers, colleges will remain a necessary passport to professional success and probably the best investment they’ll ever make. And for the truly dedicated ponderer, opportunities will continue to exist.

Along those lines, this also would force a rethink of who goes to college. Even today, less than a third of American adults have even a Bachelors degree, and degree holders constitute a majority in only two areas of employment – the professions and management. Moreover, for many of the jobs of the future, training will be so position-specific that a Bachelors degree won’t be necessary or even helpful.

The Cato study cited Peter Wood, a professor at Boston University, who said federal subsidies “are seen by colleges and universities as money that is there for the taking … tuition is set high enough to capture those funds and whatever else we think can be extracted from parents.”

Let colleges turn their extraction efforts exclusively to parents. It would do all of us – parents, students, taxpayers, even the colleges – a lot of good.

Brian McNicoll

Brian McNicoll is a conservative columnist and freelance writer based in Alexandria, Va.