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Watch the cost go up and graduates leave if college is ‘free’

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s proposal to close the tuition gap for all residents, regardless of income or immigration status, seems well-intentioned, but will it actually accomplish what it aims to achieve?

Economics 101 teaches what should be self-evident: When goods are scarce, everyone can’t have everything they want, and therefore goods are rationed – either by free-market prices or by government dictates. As we’ve seen in health care, when a third party pays the tab, costs rise uncontrollably.

Will Lujan Grisham’s plan bend down the curve of rapidly rising college costs and bring about a higher rate of college completion?

The evidence indicates otherwise. Although correlation doesn’t always equal causation, in many countries with tuition-free or ultra-low-cost college, there are actually fewer college graduates proportionally compared to countries where higher education is much more expensive.

Such accommodating policies normally result in restricted access through more rigorous admissions standards and lower quality due to larger class sizes along with less incentive to cater to student success both during and after college.

Even the leftist Daily Beast notes that the benefits from Bernie Sanders’ college giveaway scheme would see benefits flowing “overwhelmingly to the prosperous and politically powerful” and would be a “sure-fire way to accelerate cost inflation,” which would likely exacerbate the student debt crisis. College in Sweden is free, but students there have higher levels of student debt when compared to tuition-charging countries like the UK and Germany.

Sen. Rand Paul attributes such myopic proposals to “dinosaur syndrome,” a condition common to politicians with “big hearts and small brains.”

But even if the governor’s best-laid plans work exactly as intended, we have a more fundamental problem to address. New Mexico ranks first in federal dependency and 49th in private-sector jobs. While UNM Regent Kim Sanchez Rael correctly lamented the “exodus of young families” from New Mexico, the governor’s proposal will do little to plug our state’s brain drain. As a business professor at NMSU, the vast majority of my students planned to leave the state due to the lack of a business-friendly environment and the shortage of high-quality jobs for college graduates.

Without cultivating better conditions for economic revitalization, the unintended consequence of making public colleges free for even the wealthiest of New Mexico families will be to enhance workforce development for Texas and Arizona.

The Permian Basin is our main magnet for highly skilled young workers, which makes it all the more ironic that the governor’s proposal depends on booming revenues from the energy sector, which is under attack by radical leftists in her party who support the Green New Deal that would send civilization spiraling back into the Stone Age.

Having taught at the college and graduate school levels since 1991, I can attest that more than half of what is taught today at our public institutions is economically useless nonsense at best. For decades, taxpayers have watched helplessly as higher education has become a cesspool of secularism and socialism. The output is frustrated, angry, indoctrinated young adults who are incapable of maturely processing opposing viewpoints and unable to find gainful employment outside of the academy or their local Starbucks. Absurd courses like Queering the Bible, Environmental Racism, Sexy Vampires and Deconstructing Masculinities inculcate hostility toward the conservative values of individual liberty and personal responsibility that founded and sustain this nation. Instead of training our students to lose in the oppression Olympics, we ought to empower them to win the American Dream, and that starts with getting a decent job.

Broadly showering academia with more government cash will only make it more insulated from the real world and less responsive to student needs and market demands. If we’re going to subsidize post-secondary education, we owe it to both students and taxpayers to target those resources toward empowering citizens with the kind of skills, perhaps trade skills, that will actually add value to New Mexico’s economy.

If you think college is expensive now, just wait until it’s “free.”

Gavin Clarkson served in the Trump administration as the deputy assistant secretary for Policy & Economic Development and is a former associate professor in the College of Business at New Mexico State University. He is seeking the 2020 Republican nomination for New Mexico’s open U.S. Senate seat.

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