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The Statesman

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    Putting Budget Cuts In Context

    I praise the SUNY Student Assembly for voting to accept a tuition increase, for the first time in history. Choosing to tighten our belts during times of hardships is never an easy decision to make, but it is a necessary one. Albany must now take time to consider its future role in the market of post-secondary education, especially in the wake of economic hard times, propagated by government interference in financial markets.

    Just in case you missed that last sentence, I’ll repeat for emphasis: Government interference in markets screws things up. While we all consider ourselves students, we are also consumers in the market of education. When we applied to colleges and universities, we shopped around for the best deals, we applied for loans and scholarships to help finance our purchase of, for most of us, a four-year degree. The point is to increase our earnings potential to build skills which future employers will find desirable.

    What most of us haven’t considered is if most of us actually need a four-year bachelor degree. These days, the majority of Americans are simply imprinted with the idea that a bachelors is required for success, whether or not the working world truly requires it. After all, plenty of successful, intelligent people either don’t have or don’t use their four-year degrees and, before the 1950s, these degrees weren’t very common at all.

    The problem, of course, lies with the government. Through public universities, tuition assistant programs and federal/state loans, the government has made attending university more affordable than ever. President-elect Obama is proposing plans to further decrease the financial burden of college.

    Why is affordable education a problem, you ask? When the government provides subsidies, it doesn’t increase the quality of education, but just increases the perception of demand. Government funding may lower the cost that students pay for their education, but it increases overall costs by increasing the burden of tax payers.

    Simply throwing a money at a problem doesn’t mean the problem will be solved effectively. Throwing around government money provides an influx of students to universities, but this decreases the competitive nature between universities, lowering the quality of schools, ultimately increasing tuition costs, while increasing the number of students who are gaining nothing by attending them.

    It is easy to complain about rising tuition costs if you don’t put it into the right context. Education is a product and it should be universities who are competing to offer their services to students. If publicly-funded education is preferable to private universities because of the price, it is a clear indication that demand is being inflated by government-influenced social pressures.

    Of course, this is a difficult situation, because the government will be slow to correct this overvaluation of education, if it happens at all.

    It’s easy for me to point to supply and demand curves and say that the rising cost of education should be correlated with less people trying to earn this degree, and label that as a market correction. In reality, I fully expect the public to demand more government funding, because of the perception that university education is unaffordable but necessary. However, when the free market provides other “necessities” at cheap prices, or by supplying affordable loans, then the consumers get to decide for themselves if and what type of product they want. When it comes to education, we need to apply the same logic, or we’ll be stuck with overpriced, low quality, government-supplied universities which the consumers don’t actually want or need.

    When the government protects this type of economic freedom, it leaves consumers and employers to decide for themselves the type of education they want, be it a four-year degree or self-tutoring through the Internet. This also encourages employers to come up with their own, improved, ways to measure job applicants, rather than an arbitrary bachelor’s degree, which means different things to different people.

    When the government ubiquitiously labels a four-year degree as desirable, it neglects the freedom of individuals to choose whether or not the degree is right for them, because it creates an environment where the bachelor degree is the only acceptable badge of success. Cutting the SUNY budget can be the start of something good, because if we let college tuition return to market prices, college enrollment will to return to levels desired by the market.

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