Free Community College? Moi?

“A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, all the modern languages . . .” – Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Last week, Pres. Biden proposed to spend $109 billion to make community college free.  As in many of the President’s proposals over his first 100 days, California has already “Been there, done that.”

Gov. Newsom’s College Promise Program, in place since 2019, offers two years of free tuition for first-time, full-time students.  The difference is that Newsom’s program is based on financial need and Biden’s is not.  While everyone would agree that free community college can be a godsend for students in need, for everyone else, it’s hog heaven.

I’ve always aspired to be a woman of “accomplishment” idealized by Mr. Darcy’s social set.

I’ve spent more money than I care to admit at Alliance Française brushing up on my school French before trips to France.

I’ve blown hundreds of dollars for art classes at UC Berkeley Extension to learn how to draw still life, landscape, and portraits.

And I’ve invested thousands of dollars taking piano lessons from a prominent Bay Area pianist and college music professor.

If community college becomes free, many of these services – from music lessons to digital and photography courses – often offered by individuals and small businesses, could all be taken over by government.

If going back to school doesn’t sound appealing, there’s still another way to take advantage of free community college.  I’ve recently learned that thousands of people enroll just to bank the student freebies, including access to an .edu email, a one-year subscription to Microsoft Office, even a Chrome book.  Many community colleges offer students 9 to 5 free basic medical services, use of a well-equipped gym, and an Olympic size pool.  A quick Google search of “student discount tickets” brings up thousands of discounts for airline tickets, restaurants, retailers, movies, and concerts, just to name a few.

No-show “students” in it for the perks have become a growing nuisance for community colleges.  The problem has only become worse since the pandemic when online instruction has made it a lot more difficult to catch these posers.  If this keeps up, over time, free community-college-for-all will mean student benefits for none.

I’m fortunate to live near Pasadena City College, one of the finest community colleges in the state, and the alma mater of many an accomplished Rose Queen. If Congress passes Biden’s plan to make community college free, thanks to taxpayers, I am well on my way to reaching my aspirations.

Rowena Itchon is senior vice president of the Pacific Research Institute

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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