Free college is full Keynesian valor. It is also a win-win thing

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Marlen V. Ronquillo

THE argument shared by the economic managers and the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) leadership, that the free college draft law approved by both houses of Congress is anti-poor is a canard. To be lifted by the draft law on free tuition at the 114 state colleges and universities (SUCs) and 102 local universities and colleges (LUCs) will be young men and women from the bottom 50 percent. The rich and the middle class don’t really go into the SUCs and LUCs, which are considered below par, except for UP.

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The price tag of P15 billion a year is even a negligible one.

(The truth is the days when the old PCC (now PUP), PNC (now PNU) and PCAT (now TUP) were laden with prestige, when the sons and daughters of the middle class aspired for admission into them, are long gone. As they expanded and diversified their course offerings and moved into full university status, the three former specialized schools got dragged down by their sheer size. Where have you gone, Mesyong Prudente?)

The argument that those deeply moored in the poverty trap (the poorest of the poor) will not benefit is brazenly absurd when you look at this fact. The only ones in that cursed category that can’t avail of the free tuition to be offered by the SUCs under the draft law are those without the credentials to even apply for a college degree. They are divided into two hopeless categories. First, the elementary school dropouts; then, the high school dropouts.

How can one apply for college without a high school diploma?

The root of the problem is not exclusion. The root of the problem is the failure of the educational system and the broader society as a whole to force the kids at the lowest of the economic quintile to get their high school diplomas. To penalize the poor families who struggled to encourage their kids to finish high school and who now have the chance to send their kids to college without tuition is idiotic.

The truly rich? Just read the glossy magazines on where the kids of the truly rich go. It is either Ivy League or Stanford, or Cambridge or Manchester, if England is the university setting of choice. Notre Dame and Fordham and UC Berkeley are even called “second choices.” A few go to the Trinity College in Dublin. After that category, the second tier of the rich (who do not dare take the risk of matriculating their kids at the US’ and England’s elite schools) prefer the Jesuit school or the school run by the Brothers. And UP.

It is all predictable, the schools where the kids of the truly wealthy and the barely wealthy go. Below them are all of us, whose go-to-schools are the SUCs.

The truth is the redemptive part of Congress, an institution plagued by corruption and laziness and subservience to whoever is sitting as President, is its Keynesian valor. For all its sins and many failings, Congress has heroically been enacting laws to fulfil the state’s social contract with its citizens and education has been a beneficiary of that valor. We got free high school in the 8thCongress. Then came the GATSPE and Tesda. The current Congress has passed the free college draft law and the fact that it applies only to the SUC operations is more than enough.

What will the free college draft law, once signed into law by DU30 do? Plenty, and all of them positive.

The most important asset of an economy is its human capital, an educated and trained pool. Even in an age of robots, trained humans remain the prime and indispensable requirement of a functioning economy. More, the Philippine economy is a two-stop shop of OFWs and BPOs, where training and competence are the prime requirements.

The guarantee of an economic sustenance will come from the pools of the trained and the educated, whose supply will be boosted by the free college measure.

The truth is we should have enacted a Free College Act right after the 8thCongress passed the Free Secondary measure. But a tax base of below 15 percent and the ascendancy of economic managers hooked to the concept of austerity frustrated the efforts of congressional leaders then to follow up the Free High School act with a Free College law.

The irony is that the advocates of austerity were the then economic managers who came from private business, from the corporate boardrooms. These recruits from the private sector knew all too well that low revenue collections were rooted in the tax-dodging rich, that would rather register Cayman Island-based offshore companies than pay the right taxes. They were also painfully aware that the corporate tax rate was pliable enough and open to exploitation, which their principals truly exploited.

And they were also fully aware of the fact that an area with an endless pool of trained manpower was always attractive to investments.

Yet, in the name of austerity and under the false belief that Keynesian interventions are always acts of wastage and the symbol of a reckless state, the enthusiasm to pass a free college law was reined in.

If only Mr. Congressman was allowed to have his way, the Free College Law would have been an institution for at least the past two decades.

Now, it appears that nothing can stop Congress’ act of Keynesian valor. And that will be good for the poor and the broader society.

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1 Comment

  1. Is college the solution? We need hands on workers too. Yes, college for engineers and builders is useful as is college for medical professionals. But much of college these days does not focus on real learning but rather on indoctrination in new thinking and then posting a series of obstacles to be surmounted on the way to graduation. Those resourceful enough to navigate through the obstacles graduate. But do they learn how to learn? Are they open to alternate ideas? Do they swallow science whole and without question as if science knows all there is to know? How much to they read? Are they done reading? Are they spiritually dead? Are they capable of happiness? College fails far more graduates than it improves. Education needs to focus on a much earlier age group to accomplish real learning with a mind that is developing actively throughout life.