Our Views: Not free, but earned _lowres

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- Baton Rouge Community College students pass in front of the school's fountain, as classes classes change Tuesday afternoon, against the backdrop of the school's Governors Building, one of the original campus buildings when the school settled into its current location, in 1998. Classes for the fall semester began Monday at BRCC.

Skin in the game.” That is the phrase that people ought to think about when liberals like President Barack Obama propose “free” community college tuition for more than 9 million students across the land.

The students paying little or no tuition don’t have skin in the game. That is, we believe, a fatal flaw at the root of the Obama proposal.

The reasons that the Obama proposal is so attractive go beyond something-for-nothing populism of the left. College tuitions have been rising rapidly, in Louisiana as elsewhere, even for the community colleges that are supposed to be the low-cost alternatives to four-year institutions.

A huge percentage of jobs in America in the next few years will require more than a high school degree, and community colleges are the principal pathway to technical training that can pay off for the economy. Obama is not getting his ideas from nowhere; several states, whether under Democratic or Republican leadership, have toyed with this idea or something like it.

We hate to invoke human nature, but conservatives are right when they worry about not only the high costs of this kind of new entitlement. The notion that skin in the game is important.

Today’s TOPS tuition vouchers in Louisiana provide, as per Obama’s plan, “free” tuition. The program was signed into law by conservative Gov. Mike Foster, which makes it an example of something-for-nothing populism from the right. Students of modest academic achievements get the free ride, although fees can be quite costly and those are paid by students or their families.

A great many students don’t make the grades to keep TOPS awards.

Before admission requirements at Louisiana colleges, any student with a high school diploma could go to college. Tuition and fees were minimal because the state budget was subsidized by “free” money from oil and gas taxes. Predictably, thousands of students flunked out every year because they were neither prepared academically for college nor motivated by skin in the game to work at it.

We strongly support community colleges and their missions. We believe that the cuts to state aid to community colleges in Louisiana are counterproductive.

A better plan is to increase state aid to community colleges so they have the money for high-quality programs that people will willingly pay for. That’s a better agenda in the long run than “free” tuition.