End Welfare for Colleges and Universities
by Jacob G. Hornberger
Last week the New York Times carried an article detailing how small colleges across the country are experiencing severe financial crises. Some are actually struggling to survive. The number of high school graduates is decreasing, and families are questioning whether expensive private schools, which oftentimes leave students in debt, are worth it. Many families are considering state-supported public universities to cut down on costs, which obviously impacts the smaller schools, which partly depend on tuition revenue.
All this raises an important question: Why should the state provide welfare to any college or university? And yes, “state support” for such schools is definitely welfare, no different from food stamps, Social Security, Medicare, farm subsidies, or any other welfare program.
The state has no resources of its own. It gets its money through taxation. Therefore, before it can give a dole to a college or university, it must first take the money from people through taxation.
As most everyone knows, taxation is based on force. Taxes are not voluntary. If you don’t pay your taxes, the state seizes your property and sends you to jail.
Let’s break down exactly what happens when it comes to state-supported colleges and universities.
Let’s assume that a school has annual expenditures of $10 million, which includes salaries, electricity, building maintenance, water, and all the other regular expenses associated with running a college.
To get that money, the school receives tuitions and donations. Let’s hypothesize that it’s $5 million in tuitions and $5 in donations.
Let’s assume that one year, donations decrease by $2 million, which is going to mean a drastic reduction in the number of teachers, salaries, and courses.
The school holds a big fundraising campaign, explaining the problem to people and requesting them to voluntarily donate money to the school. The fundraising effort garners $1 million, which still leaves a shortfall of $1 million.
What does the school do? Unable to raise the money through voluntary donations, it goes to the state legislature and requests a dole of $1 million. The state legislators, concerned about the importance of education and wanting to appear charitable and benevolent, vote to give the school a welfare grant of $1 million. The school has suddenly become a “state-supported” college or university.
Do you see the problem, at least from a moral standpoint? In order to give the school the $1 million, it must first go tax people for the money. Yes, the same people who have already declined to voluntarily donate $1 million to the school.
So, essentially what the school is telling the legislators is this: “The people of this state obviously do not appreciate how important our school is. We told them that we had hit on hard times and asked them to help by donating $2 million to us. Unfortunately, they chose to donate only $1 million. So, we ask you to force them to do the right thing by seizing the other $1 million through taxation and giving the loot to us.”
Where is the morality in forcing people to fund something that they voluntarily choose not to fund? Why shouldn’t people be free to decide for themselves what to fund? It’s their money, isn’t it?
“But Jacob, education is important.” Granted, and the school is free to go out and make that case to donors. But ultimately in a free society, it’s the owner of the money who has the moral right to decide what he’s going to do with it. If he chooses to donate to colleges and universities, that’s great. But if he chooses instead to say no to the fundraising campaign, that is his right.
Like with so many other welfare-state programs, Americans have become so accustomed to state-supported colleges and universities they don’t give the matter a second thought. But there is no reason why colleges and universities should have a privileged status in society, one that entitles them to use the state to plunder people through taxation in order to provide a welfare dole to the school. Colleges and universities should be required to depend entirely on voluntary support to fund their operations, just like everyone else should be too.