Earlier today I pointed out that a plurality of Americans support single-payer health care — until they found out what it is.
I suspect the same may be true for “free college,” another proposal endorsed by Bernie Sanders and others on the political left who want America to be more like Europe.
As Samuel Goldman explains, “Americans don’t actually want the kind of stripped-down higher education that could be provided at public expense.”
The European comparison is useful. A Washington Post piece recently praised Germany for allowing students from around the world to enroll at its universities without charge. What German universities offer in exchange was not discussed. More specifically, the piece didn’t mention the services German universities usually don’t provide. Here is a partial list:
* Elaborate food and other amenities.
* Subsidized clubs and extracurricular activities.
* Academic remediation.
* Flexibility in majors.
German universities, in other words, are different from what most Americans have in mind when they think of college. Even the most famous are fairly spartan institutions, in which most students live at home or in private housing, with a minimum of academic and personal oversight. Classes are generally large lectures at which attendance is strictly optional. Graduation is based on rigorous exams rather than modular coursework. And students choose their subjects of concentration prior to enrollment, and switching is not easy.
In Becoming Europe, Samuel Gregg examines economic culture - the values and institutions that inform our economic priorities - to explain how European economic life has drifted in the direction of what Alexis de Tocqueville called "soft despotism", and the ways in which similar trends are manifesting themselves in the United States.