Fox News is reporting this week that LSU is devoting $85 million dollars to a “lazy river” project for it’s new recreation center, scheduled to be completed next year. This is being done in spite of the fact that the state of Louisiana is currently facing a $1.6 billion budget shortfall, and is planning a $500 million cut to higher education funding. LSU is already preparing for drastic budget cuts that could involve teacher layoffs. The University is defending the construction project, saying that the money comes from student fees which, having been specifically earmarked for the project, cannot be shifted to anything else. The project is also being presented as a recruiting tool.

Make no mistake, what goes on in Louisiana is a national issue. LSU receives $470 million annually in federal funding to fund research – enough money to give every man, woman, and child in the United States $1.50. If students who use the school can afford to pay for a lazy river, shouldn’t they be funding their own school’s research projects without taking a nibble out of my budget?

Perhaps more importantly, this project should have every taxpayer considering the nature of our government and its relationship to education and the economy. Think about the whole problem from an economic perspective. Because so much tax money is funneled into the university, the money which students might have spent on a private education is spent, without their consent, on a public education. By depleting students’ resources through taxation, the student’s access to private schools is limited. At the same time, students lose their motivation to go to a private school because private schools with no subsidized tuition become vastly more expensive. With that twisted economic incentive, students are funneled into state-monopoly schools, and lower competition means lower quality schools for everyone.

Having already railroaded students into the school, the state decides that it wants to build a lazy river, and for that purpose raises student fees. Make no mistake, students have no real say in how these fees are used, as literature from LSU states “The LSU Board of Supervisors may modify tuition and/or fees at any time without advance notice.” A statement which should also cause us to wonder if the school is really bound to build the lazy river as they have claimed.

Suddenly, with a stroke of some LSU bureaucrat’s pen, the cost of an education just went up to pay for something that has nothing to do with education.

Now surely some students want a lazy river. The trouble though is that they don’t want it enough. If a student was really eager to go to a lazy river, then a private businessman would build a water park with private funds next door to LSU, and students who wanted to make use of the facility would be willing to pay the actual free-market value for entry. Evidently, no one would be willing to pay that fee from their own money, or someone would have already constructed a water park. The students are, however, much more likely to use a lazy river if they can get it at half-price by forcing other students who won’t use the facility to help pay for it. The same goes for student gyms, student housing, student meal plans and anything else at a college which the state is subsidizing. If it was really valuable, people would buy it without the government forcing them to buy it.

While we’re at it, the same goes for a college education altogether. It’s somewhat valuable, but not valuable enough – if it was, everyone would be willing to make the full investment to pay for it without forcing taxpayers to foot the bill.

When we think about the lazy river as an incentive to new students, the problem becomes even more disturbing. The argument is made that every state has a duty to provide a basic education at a reasonable cost to its citizens, and on those grounds, the states fund public universities, both by sending taxpayer dollars to subsidize the universities, and by subsidizing students who cannot afford to pay. If not for this, we wouldn’t even have state universities to begin with. The same argument is made to fund food stamps and other types of welfare: believing that everyone has a fundamental right to a certain quality of life, the government subsidizes it for those who cannot afford it. Essentially then, public colleges are a welfare program, and LSU’s lazy river is a multi-million dollar advertisement beckoning potential recipients. How angry would taxpayers be if welfare recipients were given free tickets to the water park for signing up, just to make sure that more people were sufficiently motivated to get on food stamps?

As for me, I want my $1.50 back.”