I learned from WOOD TV8 news yesterday that Bob Denooyer, owner of Denooyer Chevrolet, has an idea for replicating the "Kalamazoo Promise" college scholarship program in the Lakeshore region around Holland and Zeeland. Now if you're thinking that means he wants to donate his wealth to fund college tuitions like the anonymous donor in Kalamazoo did, maybe "replicating" isn't quite the right word. What Denooyer wants is to have you, the taxpayer, open your wallets to the tune of $40 million a year.
His idea is to levy a 1.5% tax on the income of every household in the Holland-Zeeland area to give the approximately 1,750 high school graduates in the region a full-ride tuition to college. Apparently it has eluded Denooyer that forcing everyone under the penalty of law to cough up cash for a program like this is not a gift to make good on a promise, but a shakedown to cover a demand. It is one thing for a generous soul to promise to pay the college tuition for any kid who wants a higher education. It's another to demand that a community be taxed to pay for EVERY kid to go to college.
What is this delusion people like Denooyer and so many others suffer that it is an absolute must for kids to immediately go to four years of college after high school -- if at all? What's wrong with getting a job, enlisting in the armed forces, or going to a community college? Is giving an eighteen-year-old a free ride on the back of taxpayers, to whom he has no accountability (unlike other types of scholarships), really a good idea when as an adult he should start learning how to fend for himself? And if this one-size-fits-all solution to starting out adult life is four years of college, why is it the burden of the taxpayers to pick up the tab?
Isn't it enough that the taxpayers must pay for a bloated, underperforming elementary and secondary public school system? If kids aren't getting the skills they need to start out life from that elaborately expensive process, why shouldn't Denooyer and his cohorts demand improvements there instead of demanding that taxpayers put up the money for another four years of schooling? Isn't this where the real scandal lies: After thirteen years of public education, our kids apparently need another four years of schooling to be employable?
But what's easier? Breaking the resistance of the teacher unions and adminstrator associations to real reform of public education, reforms that might cost them some of their perks and benefits and even sinecures? Or persuading a group of politicians to not fight that fight and sock it to the taxpayers again?
Finally, whatever answers you may have to all of these questions, has Denooyer even identified a real problem in the Holland-Zeeland area? Are there truly any kids not going to college because they, or their families, can't afford it? According to TV8, Holland High School counselor Sue Sirotti says that 85% of the high school graduates go onto college. So who isn't getting a college degree because the taxpayers aren't footing the bill? And even if a kid can't put together the funds to pay for college immediately out of high school, what exactly is wrong with him working for awhile or serving in the army until he has the means to do so?
In fact, I think most of us know from our own experience or the experience of others how much more seriously a college education is taken when we do so at an older age -- especially if we have had to work hard to get it. As a matter of public policy, there's something to be said for the school of hard knocks. If nothing else, it doesn't cost the taxpayers anything.