Why ‘Free College’ Is a Terrible Idea
Since he was a kid, Michael Gamez wanted to work on cars just like his dad and his grandfather. He fixed up and sold his first used car when he was fourteen. It felt really good to build something up and sell it for a profit. The fact that I was able to do something like that, which was kind of like, ok you know, I know what I’m doing, this is what I want to do. But Gamez’s teachers conditioned him to believe that he needed to go to college. They kind of just thought that my dream of being a mechanic was kind of like one of those childhood dreams, they kind of thought that a mechanic wasn’t a successful job, they thought it was kind of like a lower-class job. So he enrolled at UC Irvine with a plan to major in mechanical engineering. During his sophomore year Gamez dropped out because he realized he wasn’t on the path he wanted. So I talked to my counselors, talked to my directors, I even talked to the president of UC Irvine, I talked to every single person I could to simply want to stay at UC Irvine and do what I wanted to do. At the end of the day it was kind of like, you don’t belong here. Public colleges and Universities should be tuition free and debt free for all Americans. Make college universally available with free tuition and fees. Several Democratic presidential candidates have promised that if elected, they’ll make public college tuition free and wipe clear federal student loan debt, which in the U.S. tops of 1.5 trillion dollars. They say that making college universal will lead to higher productivity and more economic opportunity, for people like Michael Gamez. If you make College free, then there’s gonna be so many BA’s floating around that if you want to get a better job then you’re gonna need to go and get some supplemental degree. Bryan Caplan is an economist at George Mason University who’s skeptical that professors like him have much to offer most students. His book is called The Case Against Education. We’re spending too much time and money on education because most of what you learn in school you will never use after the final exam. We like to pretend otherwise but really if you just calmly compare what we’re studying to what we really do the connection is shockingly weak. Caplan says that most people attend college as a way to signal to prospective employers that they’re reasonably intelligent, conscientious, and conformist. The signaling story is mostly that our society says that you’re supposed to graduate, and if you’re supposed to graduate, then the failure to graduate signals nonconformity. So if you want people to treat you well, you better go and conform. If you remember what it’s like to be a student, you have to jump through an endless series of seemingly meaningless, arbitrary, unfair hoops. And people that are willing to just bite their tongues and suffer through it, are the ones who are also going to be good at doing that once they get a job. Caplan’s case rests partly on the so-called sheepskin effect. Named for the sheepskin upon which diplomas were once printed. Studies of college graduates earnings reveal that the salary increase for completing the final year of college, is on average more than double that of completing all three of the previous years, implying it’s the fortitude to obtain the degree, not the knowledge gained that explains the boost in compensation. The human capital view says that basically all of what’s going on in schools they are pouring useful skills into you they are preparing you for whatever job it is that you are going to get. What I’m saying is that the main payoff you’re getting from school is that you’re getting certified, you’re getting stamped, getting what you need to convince employers that you are a good bet. We are helping our individual participants build a very strong signal for themselves. As opposed to relying on you know, a third party large institution. Praxis combines a professional bootcamp with a paid apprenticeship. Cameron Sorsby is the CEO of Praxis, a professional training program trying to offer an alternative to four-year university. The way I would describe our curriculum development process now is everything is market driven. We’re constantly learning what hiring managers need to see in order to feel confident that they should hire any individual participant. They’re really good about shifting you from the mindset of you’re doing this for a grade, or you’re doing this to get approval. They put all of the weight on you. Like what is your definition of success. Leah Wilczewski enrolled in Praxis one year program focusing on communication, marketing and other jobs. It costs $12,000 but included a six-month paid apprenticeship worth $16,000 meaning she’ll finish the program $4,000 in the black. Wilczewski is working at Impossible Foods the Bay Area company that sells a meatless hamburger. I feel as if being in Praxis and being able to nail a job that typically requires four years of school if not more, and knowing that there’s a whole line of people who applied for the same job and being able to nail that at only twenty-one and without that business college degree, it’s like okay, with that knowledge, what else can I do? After Michael Gamez dropped out of UC Irvine, he enrolled in an auto mechanic trade school, while also working a job at Pep Boys. Then he applied for and received a $12,400 scholarship from Mike Rowe Works, which looks for two qualities from applicants who were looking to enter the skilled trades: the willingness to learn a useful skill, and the willingness to work your ass off. Combined we think that is something that ought to be affirmatively rewarded. From there, he entered a three-month training program with BMW and the day after finishing, began his job as a high level technician at BMW of Beverly Hills. I get excited to go to work because it’s something that I really like to do. So I feel like a lot of people, they get surprised when I tell them the amount of money that a mechanic or a technician can make at a dealership. They’re like really? You guys make that much money? I’m like, yeah. So I feel like there’s always this idea that if you don’t go to college, you don’t get a degree, you won’t make a lot of money. I think that’s wrong. It’s kind of where you put yourself. Even though it’s possible to acquire the necessary skills to make a good living without attending college, enrollment at four-year universities has stayed steady for the past ten years. Caplan remains skeptical that it will decline anytime soon. So I think things are gonna stay about the way they are. When you have that kind of free money coming from people that are not actually paying out of their own pockets that tends to freeze the world of in place. Maybe, maybe not, college has a place for, you know the average student going forward, but I think what’s most important is that people are just starting to question and starting to think more critically. What I’d like to see most is for young people to have more access to early professional opportunity because I think gaining that early experience is the best way to learn what you do and and do not want to pursue. As for with Wilczewski and Gamez, she has two more months left in her apprenticeship and hopes that Impossible Foods will keep her on in the sales department. And Gamez hopes that working for BMW is a first step toward eventually owning his own shop. One day you will see me in my own shop and they’re like oh yeah ha, whatever. And I’m like, no you really will. And the day that I invite you to my shop, then you’ll see.