President Joe Biden’s $302 billion higher education plan seeks to usher in a new era of free community college for all Americans. This is on top of the more than $1 trillion the federal government spent on higher education, as of 2018.

According to the left, completely funding two years of every American’s higher education via community college is still woefully inadequate. In fact, it seems the left will never be satisfied when it comes to pushing the college-for-all model.

For example, take this New York Times column entitled “Community College Should Be More Than Just Free.” The writer, professor David L. Kirp, observes that after Tennessee made community college free in 2015, the graduation or transfer-to-university rate increased by three points, reaching a still-woeful 25 percent, a change he somehow manages to portray as a victory. Kirp concludes the best way forward is to go beyond free tuition—more free services should be included, including counseling, scheduling help, and monitoring of students’ academic performances to ensure they stay on track.

Higher education’s bureaucrats are increasingly eager to enmesh themselves in the student experience, to the point that a student’s personal agency and initiative are not requirements for college success. College bureaucrats may be creating jobs for themselves, but the services they offer—purportedly to help young adults graduate with useful degrees—will simply cripple students in the real world’s workforce free from academia’s handholding.

Biden’s proposal that U.S. taxpayers foot the bill for everyone’s community college is incomplete because it fails to address “higher education’s biggest challenge – boosting the number of community college students who graduate or transfer to a four-year school,” Kirp writes. Ostensibly only about 40 percent of community college students nationwide either graduate with an associate’s degree, or transfer to a four-year university within the span of six years.

As a solution, Kirp proposes the universal adoption of the “Accelerated Study in Associate Programs” model, or ASAP for short, in addition to the aforementioned $302 billion in new funding for students and colleges.

The first part of the ASAP model is to help students find schools that match their interests and give them important information on a school’s benefits and drawbacks, including costs and graduation rates. This is all well and good, and it is refreshing to see Kirp, or anyone on the left for that matter, speak in favor of students avoiding needlessly expensive programs, or schools that simply do not have anything to offer them.

However, this step is really the sort of common-sense decision-making students should already be engaging in. Do we really need to hire more administrative staff to select students’ colleges for them? Can’t they complete this degree of research by themselves?

From there, each remaining step in the ASAP program is increasingly infantile. These are the sort of things we expect parents to teach their young children, or do for them if they have not yet learned them. For colleges to treat grown adults in this same manner is ridiculous, expensive, and harmful.

“Personalized text-message nudges” to prompt students to start or continue their higher education journey are the first step in coddling these students; identifying “signs of trouble,” like a failed midterm exam or skipped classes in order to intervene “before they ripen into crises” is another. The steps conclude with recommendations for “A brief experience for college freshmen, designed by social psychologists to promote a sense of belonging.”

One has to wonder about the size of the bureaucracy needed to spy on every student in a single associate’s degree program, never mind every such program nationwide. How much money will be spent pouring over attendance records and test scores? What form will these academic interventions take?

Aside from being an expensive and demeaning program, such handholding will likely do harm to students’ future career prospects as well. Sure, it might help some students to drag their feet through a program they aren’t that committed to in the first place, but what about when those students get into the real world where people expect them to earn their own way through initiative and determination?

Any student whose hand has been held this tightly by the educational system seems unlikely to be able to complete the responsibilities of a full-time professional job. Then again, maybe we’ll just take it to the next level when we get to that point, with American taxpayers footing the bill for a new class of civil servants whose responsibility it will be to text computer programmers reminders of their deadlines and call electricians to figure out why they showed up late for work.

The prolonged adolescence in 21st century America is sustained and promoted by the educational system, but its effects reach well beyond school and work. In 2017, the U.S. Census Bureau found that of the 2.2 million young adults age 25 to 34 living in their parents’ homes, one out of four neither attended school nor worked. Eight out of 10 young people were married by age 30 in the 1970s, a proportion that is not reached today until age 45.

Students pursuing higher education are adults. They need to be treated as such, not subjected to the appalling low standards of our governmental and educational bureaucrats. Holding students’ hands all the way does not enable or empower them, it demeans them and delays their entrance into adulthood. 

If we expect more from young people, they will either have to deliver, or fail of their own free will. The less we demand, the less they believe they need to achieve, and the less society will continue to receive from them.