President Obama’s recent announcement of his plan to reduce college tuition hikes has alarmed many college administrators and students—typically his bastion of support—with his proposal to punish colleges that raise tuition costs. Criticism also came in the media from some outlets very friendly to the President, surprisingly echoing the tone that this is an encroachment from Washington, and a proposal that doesn’t take into consideration the diverse array of schools and policies that differ from state to state. It seems the enemies of conservative, small-government principles have figured out what we were talking about all along.
From my perspective, the criticism is accurate from a purely logical standpoint concerning whether this would actually help or hurt students and colleges. One main objection is that schools are so diverse across states that there’s no way Washington can effectively curb costs. For example, some schools focus mainly on liberal arts, while others focus on hard sciences such as engineering, physics, chemistry, or mathematics. Obviously, tuition costs for these different types of schools are going to vary, in many cases needing to rise to keep up with changing technology, research methods, or what have you.
Another major criticism is that states have different funding methods, with some states having large numbers of great colleges while others have fewer that are more tailored to specific needs. The President’s proposal, the critics argue, fails to take this into consideration, and may actually end up hurting colleges in states that have fewer schools and fewer students that have the opportunity to attend college. Again, this is a valid point, and sticking with the sole logic behind the proposal, the criticism sticks.
A further criticism came from the The Washington Post believe it or not, which pointed out that these kinds of across the board proposals to cap tuition hikes could disproportionately hurt public schools. This makes sense, in that private schools typically have far higher tuition rates to begin with, so a small percentage increase in a private institution’s tuition would still result in a large amount of money. A public institution, on the other hand, may only raise its tuition by a small amount of money, but this could result in a large percentage hike, thus qualifying the institution to receive sanctioning under President Obama’s proposal.
Now we could go on and on talking about why this type of proposal is a bad idea, but let’s actually deal with the root of the problem, shall we? Conservatives figured this out decades ago: Get the federal government out of education! We are now seeing those on the left coming out to criticize this policy from Washington that fails to take into account the diversity of states throughout the country. Really? This is what we have been saying for years. When the federal government begins to have power over education in this way, it only makes everything worse, because the bloated, incoherent, and inefficient bureaucracies simply cannot effectively run the education system from their centralized throne within the bowels of Washington.
For those of us old-timers who still look to the Founding Fathers and the Constitution for guidance, this is the same problem that has existed since the federal government started stepping outside its constitutional bounds. There is a reason the Founders did not list educating our children as a role for the federal government. The Founders feared such a centralized approach, because then the federal government could start bullying, bribing, and intimidating institutions throughout the country—essentially bribing the people with their own money. Alexis de Tocqueville recognized all the way back in the first half of the 19th century that when this begins happening, the American republican experiment would cease to exist.
This is why the Founders set up the American republic so that the central government played a very limited role, mainly involved in areas dealing with general welfare. Ironically, this original clause that limited federal power has been grossly twisted and used by progressives to infiltrate the feds into education, healthcare, retirement planning, and the list goes on and on. To understand the problem with what the federal government is doing now, one must first understand what the Founders actually had in mind when they wrote the Constitution, and specifically what they had in mind about general welfare.
National defense is a real example that falls under general welfare, in that no one individual can have any more national defense than another. This clause does not mean, however, that the federal government can tax someone, then use the money to subsidize education for someone else, and just call that general welfare because education is a good thing, then expand federal power over this area infinitely. James Madison and others understood that this kind of interpretation would lead to the destruction of the Constitution and the idea of a true federalist republic. The only things the federal government can do that are not based on the actual idea of general welfare are laid out in Article 1 Section 8 of the Constitution, or in amendments added to the Constitution (some of which have overstayed their welcome, the 16th anyone?). All other areas of policy are left to the states and the people, as stated in the tenth amendment.
As Americans, we must understand that the general welfare clause and the Constitution are actually limits on the powers of the federal government, not vehicles to be used to limitlessly expand power into every aspect of Americans’ lives. The Constitution is a beautiful document, and every single American should read it and understand what the role of the federal government is, and most importantly what its limitations are. Then, and only then, we can begin to truly transform our system of government to put things like education and healthcare in the hands of governments that are closest to the people.
Once this happens, we will no longer have to worry about Washington prescribing a one size fits all solution such as the one President Obama proposes, because we will be able to deal with these issues in our states and our communities. This example over education is just a further illustration of why our system is broken, mainly because so many Americans don’t even understand the system. Until we understand the root of the problem, we are going to continue debating its symptoms, and make no real progress.
Liberals are all for a policy forced on every American across the land as long as it is something they like and agree with, but what happens when they don’t like it anymore? In this case, they actually sound like constitutionalists, critical of the failure of Washington to take into account the diversity of America and roles of state and local governments in education. Well, I must say, we told you so!