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Opinion: Higher Education is Not a Human Right

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Matthew Noyes

The United States was founded on the ideals of individual liberty and inalienable rights. The core precept of the Revolution and foundation of the United States was that all people have rights that come from Nature and God. Jefferson claims that man, in his natural state, is free and that such rights are self-evident. That is to say, it is moral and just for an individual to live lives free without threat of violence from others. Forcing people to accept higher education as a right is an authoritarian construct; people would not be allowed to choose whether or not to support the program. The state would simply steal people’s labor and property to achieve that totalitarian goal rather than let individuals choose how to contribute to higher education.

 Although there is wide acknowledgment that human rights do exist, what is and is not a right is often misconstrued. A right is the freedom to exist, and to act upon one’s own accords in a way that does not encroach on another individual’s liberty. For example, the right to free speech exists because for one to express their mind does not require the submission of another’s rights. Such natural law has been enshrined in a number of different ways, one being the American Declaration of Independence. It states: “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” People have the right to pursue happiness, although they are not guaranteed it nor are they guaranteed equal outcomes. It is not only impossible to do so, but attempting to do so would diminish the freedom of others. This brings us to the question of whether or not higher education is a right.

Higher education is valuable to individuals and society as a whole. However, the notion that everyone in the country and in the world needs and is entitled to a college degree is objectively false. Going to college is right for some people, just as it is wrong for others. Everyone has their own path, and everyone has the right to pursue what they want. However, that is not to say they are assured to succeed or achieve their goals. When we begin to refer to things as rights, that are not rights, it not only creates a moral hazard, but in practice it does not work. The failure of the Excelsior Scholarship is the perfect example of such government programs failing, as I believe after reading the article by Elise Coombs in the Sept. 5 edition of the ASP.

For one to say people have a right to higher education (to paraphrase Senator Paul), it implies that they believe in conscription and slavery. Higher education requires a professor, administrative staff, and maintenance staff among other human resources. A law only exists through compulsion by force. If one has a right to higher education, the government can force a professor to teach, in effect stealing his or her labor, which is an infringement on the professor’s rights. If a professor does not give his labor to the state, the state then sends men with guns to arrest or harm them, suppressing that individual’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

There is a difference between a right and a something we should strive for through voluntary contracts between individuals. When the state calls something a right, it is no longer voluntary to comply with it, meaning someone is being conscripted or having their property stolen. We as individuals and as a society can and should help those who seek higher education through voluntary charity; not through compulsion under the threat of force. It is never okay to force someone to give away their life and liberty for a morally corrupt government program.

As a society we ought to aspire to help each other reach our potentials. If that includes helping someone who wants to go to college but cannot afford it, then we should help them as a community and through private contributions. The United States is the most charitable nation in world and as a people we can and often do help those who need it. According to the National Philanthropic Trust, Americans gave nearly $400 billion dollars to charity in 2016, more than any other country in the world nominally and more per capita than any other people in the world. We should voluntarily help those who want to go to college but cannot afford it. This is very different than declaring higher education a right and having it provided by the state.


Matthew Noyes is a conservative columnist and assistant opinions editor of the Albany Student Press. He is also president of the University at Albany's Turning Point USA chapter and a writer for Campus Reform. Noyes, a New Hampshire native, is a political science and Japanese double major.


  1. Chelsi
    September 14, 2017 at 4:30 pm — Reply

    This is the worst opinion article I’ve ever read. Please, enlighten me with how you made the jump from a right to higher education with forcing professors to teach or else chasing after them with guns. I’ve read the paragraph 4 times and still can’t comprehend how such a ridiculous concept even entered your brain.

  2. Tara
    September 16, 2017 at 8:06 am — Reply

    Very well said!

  3. Emily
    October 3, 2017 at 1:00 pm — Reply

    This article is illogical from start to finish. How dare you compare assistance with higher education to slavery.

  4. Pete
    October 5, 2017 at 12:12 pm — Reply

    Loved that this article and the opposing side was presented in the paper at the same time. I can see some dissenters, as expected, here in the comments but you’re pretty spot on. The concept of “human rights” has been experiencing some severe concept creep lately. I imagine, though can’t say for certain, that the dissenters here also believe healthcare and unrestricted international travel are human rights as well. Good to see more politically right leaning opinions being expressed on campus. This is diversity.

  5. Matt
    October 8, 2017 at 4:02 pm — Reply

    Education is a service. If you have the right to someone’s labor, you do not believe in that individual rights. That implies you believe you have the right to conscript another’s services regardless of if they consent or not. We should help people who want to get a higher education. However you do not have the right to someone else’s labor. That is authoritarianism.

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