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Free community college isn’t free...and it’s a bad idea

President Obama seems bent on creating new problems for our country and economy under the guise of trying to solve a related problem. The latest installment is his proposal to give a two-year "Free Community College" education to any student with a "C" average or above, subsidized 75 percent by the federal government (i.e. taxpayers) and 25 percent by state governments (i.e. taxpayers).

This is analogous to his approach to "solving" our healthcare issues. Instead of addressing rapidly rising costs, he has focused on increasing access which drives up costs. And this approach, once again, is insane.


No Such Thing as Free

"Free Community College" is just as "free" as everything else that is deemed "free" — it isn't. Someone has to pay for the costs of the program and those paying for it will be the taxpayers. That means that both the people who opt for free community college will pay for it — as well taxpayers at large — at inflated prices down the road. The federal government has already created a debt load that saddles future generations with more debt than the country's GDP. This type of "free" will cost dearly later.

More government-sponsored "free" college will inflate the cost, but not the value, of a community college education. It's basic supply and demand. If you put more demand into a fixed supply of colleges, costs will increase. And removing the ability for the people paying for the education system to vote with their dollars, so that they do not send money to providers where the value isn't worth it, serves only the purpose of driving up costs with no obligation on the providers of education.

We've already seen this within the post-secondary education system. There are free funds to students in the form of Pell Grants and student loan availability abounds, regardless of whether the investment makes sense and can be paid back. That easy money increased demand in the relatively fixed college supply system and has led college costs to skyrocket far beyond almost anything else in the economy. When the economy was struggling, college costs were still going up. And in community colleges over the past few years, by many accounts, costs have increased at more than double the inflation rate.


College Isn't For Everyone

When you create services that have no immediate costs to the people who use said services, you remove the obligation to use them effectively. When you pay for something, it creates some sense of obligation on the part of those who use it. So, there will be many people who take the education because they deem it free, without any purpose for it, delaying their ability to focus on the type of training and experience that would benefit their career path.

There are also many jobs that require no more than a high school education and others where apprenticeships and trade-oriented training are what is valuable. People whose careers would benefit from alternate forms of development will be pushed into the college system just because it's "free". That doesn't benefit that person or the country.

And while I won't opine at length in this limited space on the state of our secondary education system, it's not very good. We should focus on what's broken first.

Tech Makes it Unnecessary

Truth be told, we have myriad educational opportunities available online for an incredibly low cost- and in many cases for "free". With discipline, anyone can learn more on their computer from the comfort of their home (or a library, should they not have a computer or Internet access), than they can in many college classrooms. Just look at the model that the Khan Academy has put in place.

It would be very easy, much less costly and just as effective to curate lists of online learning by area of study interest and put the onus on the participant to ensure they spend their time effectively. Our government seems to always be looking backwards and it's very difficult to move forward while looking behind you.

Look, our student debt problem is horrible, but caused largely by government interference in that market and a lack of teaching young people and their families to make investments in education commensurate with the return they can reasonably expect on those investments. And the jobs situation for young people is also horrible, enhanced by Fed interference in the market.

However, the free community college idea is equally as horrible: It doesn't address the problems faced by youth in America, it certainly doesn't fix those problems and it creates many new problems in its wake.

Carol Roth is a CNBC Contributor, a 'recovering' investment banker and bestselling author of The Entrepreneur Equation. Follow her on Twitter: @ CarolJSRoth