Here’s Bill Maher’s take on Biden’s new $1.8 trillion plan to subsidize higher education for Americans (i.e., everyone pays for it). According to Forbes, the plan has these provisions:
President Biden today released a $1.8 trillion domestic spending proposal, called the “American Families Plan,” that would transform elements of American safety net programs, with a particular focus on higher education. Here’s what’s in it — and what’s not.
- $109 billion for free community college. The plan would “ensure that first-time students and workers wanting to reskill can enroll in a community college to earn a degree or credential for free,” without incurring any student loan debt. The White House estimates that 5.5 million students could benefit. Free community college would also be available to DREAMers under the proposal.
- Expansion of Pell Grant program. Pell Grants are financial aid awards for low-income students that do not have to be repaid. The current maximum Pell Grant award is $6,495; Biden’s plan would increase the maximum award amount by $1,400. The larger award would be available to DREAMers, as well.
- $62 billion to invest in completion and retention activities at colleges and universities. According to the U.S. Department of Education, students who do not complete their degree programs are three times as likely to default on their student loans. Biden’s proposal would provide significant funding to colleges and universities to keep students on track for degree completion; this funding would include “wraparound services ranging from child care and mental health services to faculty and peer mentoring; emergency basic needs grants; practices that recruit and retain diverse faculty; transfer agreements between colleges; and evidence-based remediation programs.”
- Two years of subsidized tuition at HBCUs, TCUs, and MSIs. Biden’s plan includes a new $39 billion program that provides two years of subsidized tuition for students from families earning less than $125,000 enrolled in four-year Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), and Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs). The proposal also includes $5 billion to expand existing institutional aid grants to these schools, and “$2 billion directed towards building a pipeline of skilled health care workers with graduate degrees.”
Note that the program does not, as Maher implies, subsidize college for well off families, like Lori Laughlin’s: it’s aimed at students who are too poor to have access to college, and is thus a good liberal program in every way I can see.
Maher doesn’t like the plan, which he sees as misguided in many ways. First, he doesn’t like it because those without college educations will pay for those who do. That I reject, for all of us pay for secondary education even if we don’t have kids. That’s because we see secondary education as a universal good for society. Those who don’t drive are still taxed for building roads, for having roads benefits us all whether or not we drive. Same for college.
He also sees a college education as not generally worth it, just as “a racket that sells you a very expensive ticket to the upper middle class.” (Maher got his ticket to Cornell University.) He calls colleges “luxury day-care centers”, and criticizes things like college water parks and useless courses, all of which, of course, are risible. But he’s exaggerating what college means to many people. An education that improves us all. After all, the program doesn’t force you to go to college if you don’t want to or don’t have to for your career plans.
Finally, Maher mourns the rising costs of college and the unconscionable grade inflation (from 15% A grades in 1960 to 45% now), a trend that is distressing since it reduces the ability to judge accomplishment.
While Maher points out the pecuniary advantages of going to college—it has a substantial effect on one’s future income—he seems to think that college education is pretty much useless for many professions. As he says “The answer is not to make college free; the answer is to make it unnecessary, which it already is for most jobs”. But even if that were true, that doesn’t eliminate the monetary advantages that already exist. To get rid of those seems nearly impossible, and for some professions—like medicine, chemistry, and engineering—there’s no way to just “learn on the job” without formal training.
I’m not sure what got Maher’s panties in a wad about this, but I can say that this is not one of his better pieces.