Gov. Matt Bevin’s decision to veto legislation guaranteeing any Kentucky student a free ride to community college is one of his best for several reasons:
· The commonwealth cannot afford such handouts.
Even if it was a sound idea, how can Frankfort make a worthy case for providing free community-college tuition while facing a $35 billion unfunded pension liability that’s forcing state agencies and universities to cut spending to the point of furloughing workers?
· It’s unending.
The Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship program would forever cost at least $25 million per budget, resulting in a minimum of $125 million spent during the next decade alone on free college rather than stabilizing the commonwealth’s sinking pension system.
Besides, how many new government programs like this ever see a sunset? Such endeavors instead tend to grow while taking on a bureaucratic life and additional costs of their own.
They are, as President Ronald Reagan bemoaned: “the nearest thing to eternal life we will ever see on this earth.”
· A lack of thoughtful preparation plagued this legislation.
The governor gets a shout-out not only for his veto but for confronting this bill’s sloppiness.
The legislation contained “hastily written and overly broad provisions” and failed to “permit funding to be targeted based on true need and, with limited funding, may leave behind those students with the greatest need,” Bevin wrote in his veto message.
Much more debate about this policy is needed before moving ahead.
Such a discussion must include how this program would be embedded into Kentucky’s current, grim budget context.
· It’s economic engineering that pits institutions against each other.
While Jay Box, president of the Kentucky Community & Technical College System, praised the campaign for free community college as “a great opportunity,” Western Kentucky University President Gary Ransdell announced $6 million in cuts and a 4.5 percent tuition increase for the 2016-17 school year, and the Council on Postsecondary Education approved tuition increases for the commonwealth’s universities.
University professors and administrators don’t support the free scholarship plan for obvious reasons: it favors community colleges over four-year institutions, many of whom have divested from two-year degree programs while initiating transfer agreements that allow students to meet their general education requirements at these other schools before transferring to universities.
The proposed legislation would upset that negotiated balance.
· It plunders personal responsibility.
Let’s see the hands of those who believe college students should have at least some personal financial stake in their own education?
Don’t be afraid to raise that hand, now.
Not only is this columnist not going to chastise you for “lacking compassion” or “favoring the rich over the poor,” I’m raising both hands!
There, there. Lots of hands are going up, because most reasonable taxpayers forced to pay for such programs understand: nothing is truly free and the money will come from somewhere.
While we’re at it, a note to parents who let students in this situation live at home while attending college: insist they get a job, pay rent and receive some higher education in the area of personal responsibility—something badly needed in this commonwealth.
· It’s unnecessary.
Any student armed with determination, scholarships, financial aid and even halfway-willing guardians can get themselves a stellar education in Kentucky.
According to CollegeCalc, the cost of tuition, books and supplies at Southcentral Kentucky Community and College was $4,600 per year for in-state residents during the 2014-15 academic year.
Nearly all—94 percent—received financial aid which, on average in 2013-14, was $4,675—almost exactly the same amount as that per-year tuition.
It’s more than possible for students who might otherwise mooch for two years to instead live at home, get the average amount of financial aid to do their general education work and save Kentucky taxpayers millions of dollars.
Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at [email protected] Read previously published columns at www.bipps.org.