What would you say about a law that takes money from college-bound high school graduates and redirects that money to college dropouts? I’ll tell you what my 17-year-old son said: “That’s kind of a stupid law.”
He would know. After he graduates in May, my son plans to go to college. He is none too impressed with a public policy that takes scholarship money away from him and gives it to people who are, you know, full-grown responsible-for-themselves adults.
Gov. Butch Otter asked for this legislation, 2018’s worst new law in an otherwise respectably free-market oriented legislative session. Otter refers to it as an “adult completer scholarship,” because it is aimed at people who took a few years of college but failed to finish with a degree. And he probably uses the word “completer” because “adult dropout scholarship” doesn’t have as good a sound to it.
Under the bill Otter signed, 20 percent of Idaho’s Opportunity Scholarship money, now slated for youngsters, would be redirected to adult college dropouts. Though lawmakers increased the funding for Opportunity Scholarships this year, there’s no guarantee that will happen in the future, and high school students will be competing for funding alongside grownups.
Otter’s adult scholarship program is layers upon layers of bad public policy. First, it’s the worst kind of wealth redistribution. Already, Idahoans who can’t themselves afford college—or perhaps don’t want to go to college—are being forced to pay, through their taxes, for the college education of others.
Next, that redistributed wealth, heretofore dedicated to helping high school kids, is being redirected to adults who are old enough to make their own decisions and pay for their own things, including education. Quite literally, adults are stealing stolen money from children. And they’re doing so with the gleeful blessing of state politicians.
Moreover, research has shown that government-funded college scholarships and grants have the unintended effect of contributing to college tuition hyperinflation. Higher tuition is a factor that causes students to drop out of college, thus inducing the passage of legislation to create more scholarship programs.
It’s also notable that the State Board of Education, which oversees Idaho’s public colleges and universities, has no idea whether the state’s existing college scholarship programs actually help lead high school grads to an eventual college degree. Asked for that information by my organization, the state board says it hopes to one day know the answer. You’d think that would be important information, given the fact that Idaho has a notoriously low college graduation rate—sub 50 percent in most cases and in the 30s for Boise State University.
The problem government is trying to solve here is one of its own making. Like a lot of other governments, Idaho is trying to boost college attendance, cajoling kids to “go on” even if their work goals don’t require it. Among other factors, this artificial demand for a college degree results in tuition costs rising at a rate faster than that of inflation. That causes many people to amass a lot of debt. Which causes many adults to drop out of college. Which causes the government to create a scholarship program to get adult dropouts to return to college. Up next: a government stipend for people whose taxes are too high because they’re forced to pay for the college educations of adult college dropouts.