Not content to suffer quietly under a $352 billion state debt, a crumbling post-World War II infrastructure, and a $65 billion unfunded pension liability in its largest city, the state of New York hastened its impending financial devastation this spring by announcing the latest Blue State special: free college tuition. Under its preposterous Excelsior Scholarship Program, the Empire State will stop charging “more than 940,000 middle-class families and individuals making up to $125,000 per year” at the state’s public universities and community colleges, according to its website. Let’s forget for a moment that New Yorkers remain eligible for the program even if they earn 2.2 times the median national income (2015) of $56,516. Let’s also dispense with the archaic notion that a college education amounts to anything more than vocational training. New York admits as much on the Excelsior website; these scholarships will empower college students to “secure the jobs of tomorrow.” Rather, let’s envision New York’s brilliant future in which a homegrown, locally educated, emergent aristocracy recaptures its 1900 bragging rights as the nation’s richest and most populous state.
The State University of New York (SUNY) educates 427,000 undergraduates on 64 campuses statewide. The system’s academic offerings provide evidence of the state’s maniacal focus on postgraduation employability. At SUNY’s Oneonta campus, Excelsior Program students in Professor Bambi Lobdell’s “Queer Literature” course will “investigate . . . the queer struggle for identity creation, social legitimacy, acceptance and the fight for equality—and the corresponding heteronormative backlash.” Nervous Oneonta gender-studies undergraduates need not fear a solo ascent up that academic Everest. The school’s website extols the virtues of Queer Literature’s sherpa: “For our campus, Bambi has presented on rape culture and transgender issues, and organized the first ‘Welcome to Your Coochie’ symposium in the spring of 2013.”
The invaluable study of race will also drive New York’s attempt to regain its turn of the century ranking among its benighted peers. At SUNY-New Paltz, taxpayers will fund struggling middle-class pupils as they “[d]iscuss and analy[ze] . . . the evolution of Hip-Hop philosophy and its political and social impact on the community in which it originated” in BLK372 “Hip Hop Culture,” but only after fulfilling the course’s prerequisite, BLK272 “Rap and Spoken Word,” where they will have mastered “the impact of materialism, misogyny, controlling imagery and their relationship to the current conditions of African descendant people.”
New York City scholars, whose work or family obligations force them to matriculate at the City University of New York (CUNY), will miss out on SUNY-New Paltz’s rich musico-racial offerings. However, they can boost their career prospects—if not their republican virtue—by enrolling in WSCP 81000 “#BlackGirlMagic: @The Intersections of Literacies, Pedagogies, and Black Feminisms,” which promises to
treat #BlackGirlMagic as a very specific temporal relationship to Black feminisms, digital Blackness, Black freedom movements, and 21st century (re)iterations of white supremacist and imperialist narratives.
Leave it to Ron Lieber, a scribbling kulak at the New York Times, to highlight the class aspects of this latest unfunded boondoggle. Unsatisfied with free tuition, Lieber moaned that some families “may still need to cover more than $50,000 over four years for fees and room and board.” And who might those strapped households be? Aspiring to the journalistic ideal of impartiality, Lieber described these destitute yet deserving New Yorkers as “people near and dear to my heart . . . they are New York Times subscribers, people with median household incomes of $99,000 (digital) and $167,000 (print), and others like them.”
Unlike the federal government, which can print as much money as it wants, states like New York have only two options to finance their entitlements: taxation or bond issuance. But let me propose a novel way to fund “free” college tuition. Instead of obliging New York’s taxpayers to eat the cost, let’s force the parties who will reap the greatest rewards from the program to pay its freight. New York’s indigent students will surely be enriched financially, if not intellectually. But their professors will be moving up their retirement dates after the windfall this intractable entitlement showers upon them. Imagine how many more courses with no intellectual grounding, practical application, or sane rationale the Race!Class!Gender! departments at 64 colleges will dream up. The SUNY and CUNY professoriate will compete with other state employees in a rent-seeking Olympiad, demanding ever-higher salaries, improved health and retirement benefits, and anything else these fevered leftists can imagine. So to prevent that from happening in the first place, let’s have the red diaper babies and faculty-lounge radicals pay for the “free” tuition themselves. Administrators at each state school in New York can tally the number of Excelsior Program participants on their campus, multiply that number by the stated tuition, and then deduct the resulting amount pro rata from each faculty member’s salary. That way New York’s overburdened taxpayers will have one less worry, while the fanatics inhabiting the Ivory Tower can put their socialist beliefs into practice.
Those of you in Red States can laugh all you want at New York’s expense. Enjoy your schadenfreude—but beware. Andrew Cuomo has designs on the presidency. His inane, bankrupting policies will become a national priority should he succeed electorally where his father thankfully failed in 1988 and 1992. But even before Prince Andrew enters the next presidential race, expect governors across the country to match his largesse with similar misguided policies that will both ruin public universities and waste the time of students whose lives would be better spent in fields that aligned with their talents and interests. College is not for everyone, despite the incessant cultural drumbeat declaring it the only route to a modern American middle-class existence.
Indeed, New York is so cocksure of this program’s success that it will require all recipients to reside in the state after graduation for as many years as they receive tuition. The unintended consequences here will destroy what’s left of the Empire State’s sputtering economy. Imagine armies of race- and gender-studies graduates finding nothing but frustration in the job market. The New York headquarters of Sen. Kamala Harris’s forthcoming presidential campaign will need only so many intersectionality theorists, while most Antifa Sturmabteilungen refuse to spend much on their social-media presence, if their “Faceberg” photos are any indication. Grounded in New York like a mob of flightless emus on an Australian nature preserve, these brainwashed hordes will graduate from one government program (free tuition) to another (unemployment benefits) without ever making an economic or republican contribution to the state. New York’s congressional delegation will demand more federal funds to support this foreseeable spike in unemployment. Worst of all, a growing class of permanently unemployable and stultifyingly ignorant Americans will enter voting booths every November grasping at the lever of the candidate who most reminds them of Professor Bambi.