Lots of bad op-ed stuff gets published in the New York Times and other mass circulation outlets, so I usually give it a pass, but today’s attack on free higher education by David Leonhardt is about my day job, so I have to make an exception. He repeats the utterly bs line that, since most college students are from the upper half of the income spectrum, using public funds to pay their way is regressive.
No, no no!
First, why is the college student population so skewed to the higher brackets? There are many reasons, but the financial burden of attending—not only tuition, but also the opportunity cost of not working—is a big factor. The problem with free higher ed is that, the way it’s usually framed, it doesn’t go far enough. As in European countries and elsewhere that take this issue seriously, students should not only get free tuition but a stipend. We can afford and should demand the same.
Second, what Leonhardt doesn’t mention is the student-worker phenomenon, the crushing workload on college students holding down part time and even full time jobs. Evergreen State College, where I work, just released the results from its survey of incoming students, and more than half expected to work to support themselves while attending classes, most of them more than 20 hours per week. I see this reality every day in the classroom, where students struggle with not enough time to keep up with assignments, sometimes even nodding out to recover from a late night shift, or the emails apologizing for being absent because of a work schedule change.