I recently caught a Bernie Sanders' interview where he proposed providing free college education to any American that wanted it, funded by a small fee on stock market transactions. Those that know me might think I'd be opposed to this idea based on my libertarian-leaning and fiscally conservative nature. However, my own life experience and my observations of others have me siding with Senator Sanders on this one.
I grew up in what would probably be described as a lower middle class family. We had food, shelter and clothes, but not much more. I went to high school with kids from all income bracket levels. Most of my friends in the lower income bracket got jobs after high school and most from wealthier families went to college. Of course there were exceptions, but that was the most common outcome. At 19, I joined the military.
I saw first hand how the military took young adults, mostly from lower income families like mine, and provided them with a job, training and opportunities for education, advancement, mentorship and personal and professional development. I would argue that the military is one of the most respected organizations in our country because it invests in its young people early and often. Why can't we invest in all our young adults in the same manner?
There is this perception that providing a free college education to young adults is some kind of undeserved entitlement. I struggle to see the difference between a kid that is lucky enough to be born into a family that has the resources to pay for their child to go to college and a kid that benefits from a government program that equalizes that "birth" advantage. No one would ever accuse a family that pays for their child's college education as providing an "undeserved entitlement" and we shouldn't view someone that gets a little help from society in that way either. This is where my libertarian ideology (with a liberal lean) kicks in:
I believe that everyone should be given an equal opportunity in the marathon of life. But the truth of the matter is, our starting position in that marathon is based more on the circumstances we are born into rather than our own aptitude or work ethic. We, as a society, have a responsibility to ensure that everyone starts at as close to the same position as possible. Now don't misunderstand me, where a young adult ultimately ends up is her responsibility but where she starts is society's responsibility. I am the product of a highly successful government program that did just that, moved my starting position up by investing in me. We should do the same for all young adults.
Bernie Sanders is spot on with his proposal, although I do disagree on one point. Wall Street shouldn't be the only ones investing in our young adults. All of us should invest! Charge me an extra 25 cents at Starbucks or when I eat a Big Mac. This doesn't go against my fiscally conservative belief system because I don't view helping young adults as wasteful spending. It's an investment that benefits us all. My own experience has taught me that if you invest in young people early, you will be rewarded long term with productive members of society. We all benefit from a young population that we invest in; I've seen it work first hand in the military.