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Thomas Gallatin / March 31, 2022

Biden’s Stepping Stone to ‘Free College’

The Democrats’ voting-buying college tuition racket includes ever-expanding Pell Grants.

Nearly everyone recognizes that the cost of higher education has risen too high for the average middle class American family to be able to afford, let alone lower-income families. The average inflation-adjusted price tag at a four-year college back in 1980 was $10,231 annually. As of 2020, that same four-year college costs $28,775. In other words, the average cost of college has risen a whooping 180% over the last four decades. When private nonprofit schools are included, the price jumps up to $48,965 annually on average.

Why the massive jump in college costs? The primary causal factor can be traced straight to the federal government and yet another one of its income-redistribution programs. In an effort to “help” lower-income students be able to afford to attend college, Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” established the federal Pell Grant system. Initially aimed at lower-income individuals, the tuition-assistance program has done what seemingly every government welfare program does — expanded. Today, nearly 40% of college students qualify for Pell Grants.

Pell Grants currently provide up to $6,495 annually for a student’s tuition, nearly two-thirds of the average inflation-adjusted annual cost of college in 1980. Thus, taxpayers have already been paying a significant amount of college students’ tuition. The problem is that schools have taken advantage of this government-funded pipeline and have ballooned their own budgets, passing the expenses onto the students and eventually to taxpayers.

Over the last couple of decades, colleges have increasingly expanded their own administrative staff to the point of outnumbering a school’s faculty. This, of course, has significantly increased tuition costs, though they claim it’s all for the students’ benefit. In truth, it’s mostly all for a school’s own benefit.

Heather Mac Donald insightfully observes:

Higher education today resembles a massive Ponzi scheme. Colleges desperately recruit ever more marginal students who stand little chance of graduating. Before their inevitable withdrawal, those students’ tuition dollars fuel the growth of the bureaucracy, which creates the need to get an even larger pool of likely dropouts through the door to fund the latest round of administrative expansion. Administrative positions at colleges and universities grew at ten times the rate of tenured faculty positions from 1993 to 2009, according to academic consulting firm ABC Insights. By the 2013 school year, there were slightly more campus administrators nationwide than faculty; spending on the bureaucracy was equal to spending on all educational functions, including faculty. Tuition rose to cover those bureaucratic expenses, regardless of whether families could afford to pay it. Tuition at private four-year colleges grew 250 percent from 1982 to 2012, while the median family income rose about 18 percent, adjusted for inflation, according to ABC Insights. Since the 2008 recession, tuition at four-year public colleges rose 35 percent.

As tuition costs have skyrocketed, so have the calls for “free college.” In fact, it has become a plank in the Democrat Party’s platform. The great irony is that government “do-gooders” created this problem by giving away money, and now the same folks are claiming that the only solution is to give away even more of Americans’ hard-earned tax dollars.

Despite Joe Biden’s unsuccessful bid to get Congress to pass his “Build Back Better” socialist spending boondoggle, his administration has not really backed down from its “free college” goal. Thus, Biden’s budget includes another step toward this goal with his plan to expand the Pell Grant program by increasing the maximum individual student grant totals annually to effectively double the maximum by the end of the decade. This Pell Grant expansion would cost taxpayers an additional $229 billion over the next 10 years.

Ultimately, the Democrats’ “free college” pipe dream is not really about lowering costs. It would do no such thing, as the Pell Grant has already demonstrated. Rather, it’s about growing the federal government’s control over higher education. The hand that feeds is also the hand that controls.

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