Many taxpayers object to government welfare programs. But so long as the state is in the business of confiscating some people’s wealth and awarding it to others, most would agree that welfare payments should be given only to the truly poor.
College students — or at least the vast majority of them — do not live in poverty.
But earlier this month, the state of Michigan discovered that there were 30,000 college students receiving food stamps under a program called the Michigan Bridge Card. This mass fraud stemmed from a loophole in state law, which required officials to consider income, rather than assets, when assessing an applicant’s eligibility for welfare. As a result, thousands of students were able to qualify for the $200-per-month food stipend, regardless of their actual material conditions.
It should go without saying that college students do not typically belong to the subset of the population that deserves welfare checks. Tuition, textbooks and room and board cost tens of thousands of dollars. If a student is already meeting such massive financial demands (with help from parents, most likely), an extra $200 probably isn’t going to be the difference between starvation and survival. It may be the difference between one Starbucks latte per day and two, but is that really a difference that taxpayers should subsidize?
While much of the evidence of students’ Bridge Card use is anecdotal, college newspapers across Michigan have documented cases of students spending the extra money on non-essentials like alcohol and cigarettes. Such usage is specifically prohibited by state law, but because money is fungible, students can simply purchase their food with the Bridge Card and spend an extra $200 on booze.
Thankfully, the state of Michigan put an end to the madness. There are now 30,000 fewer Bridge Cards, which will save the cash-strapped state $75 million a year. And while a whopping one in five Michigan residents still receive food stamps, at least fewer of them will be simultaneously pursuing expensive undergraduate degrees.
But even so, it’s alarming that so many college students — America’s future leaders and policymakers — would take advantage of a sloppily written law to pad their beer funds. We would expect universities to be readying intelligent young minds for participation in civil society, rather than enabling them as moochers. Shouldn’t these students know better?
Then again, perhaps students aren’t learning anything at all. A widely cited book published earlier this year — Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa’s Academically Adrift — makes the case that 45% of all students learn practically nothing during their first two years of college. After four years, 36% are still no smarter. This calls into question whether a degree is really worth the thousands of dollars and countless hours it takes to earn one. It should also call into question whether higher education spending is an efficient and necessary use of taxpayer money.
Especially if the only thing students are learning is how to scam the welfare system.