'Try getting a plumber on Sunday'

Excerpted from Robert Whitcomb's Digital Diary column in GoLocal25.com.

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, supported by some other state leaders, wants to let all Rhode Island students regardless of income attend any of the state’s three public colleges tuition-free for two years.  This is a well-meaning initiative but I doubt that it would have much effect on the state’s economy and/or lead to particularly better lives for the graduates.

The cost of the program would be $30 million when it’s fully implemented. The money might be better spent on boosting low-cost or free (to the students, though not the taxpayers) vocational education for such skilled and necessary trades  as nurses, electricians, utility linemen, pipe-fitters, sheet-metal workers, stone masons, welders, plumbers and certain factory jobs, which increasingly involve robotics.

These provide much more job security and higher incomes than most college graduates can expect to get, especially as automation and offshoring keeps gutting many previously well-paying job sectors, including such white-collar professions as law and accounting.

Starting about 30 years ago, politicians started saying that pretty mucheveryone should go to college, despite the fact that for many, perhaps most young people, a college education can be worthless in terms of what they can do  for a living after getting their degrees.

(I went to college myself, but as a future editor and writer on current affairs had, in a sense,  a vocational education myself by majoring in history and taking courses in such topics as Latin, which helped me better understand English. But very, very few people can look forward to careers in paid journalism, whose business model has been blown to smithereens by the Internet.)

There wouldn’t be family means testing for the tuition-free plan, though that would seem fairer. I guess the idea is that by making the program available to all, it would get maximum political support. It recalls how Social Security, since it was created in the 1930s, has been available to all – from pauper to billionaire – as one way to ensure that it wouldn’t be revoked. Good politics.

Anyway, remember Woody Allen's line "Not only is God dead but try getting a plumber on Sunday.''