President Joe Biden is hardly a model of rhetorical clarity. But two weeks ago, after canceling over half a trillion dollars in student debt with the stroke of a pen, he sent a message that could not have been clearer. “Education is a ticket to a better life,” he declared, but “12 years of universal education is not enough.” Every young American should go to college, and Uncle Sam (or Uncle Joe) should pick up the tab.
However novel its legal reasoning, Biden’s policy finds its roots in a half century of “College-for-All” education policy in the United States. Even before Biden’s boondoggle, the federal government was spending up to $200 billion in annual higher-education subsidies—up from $20 billion three decades ago and second only to Luxembourg on a per-student basis.
That spending might be justified if the system worked, but even by its own standards, College-for-All has been a disaster. Less than a fifth of high school students transition smoothly from high school to college to a career. Most young Americans, in other words, find themselves stuck either without a degree or without a job that requires one.