A flawed ideology: free college that isn’t free

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January 25, 2016

9:54 PM

As we draw close to Iowa, the 2016 presidential election inevitably leaks into every timeline, stream and feed on my phone. A popular strand of shared articles I cross belong to the ideological realm of Senator Bernie Sanders, and his supporters, arguing for the policy of free college. Specifically, the idea proposed by the Vermont senator (and presidential hopeful) is to make tuition free for all students at public institutions.

Now, if there is anything I learned from Intro to Microeconomics, it is that nothing is free. What would be “free” for the student body of say, the College of William and Mary, would cost taxpayers over $75 billion every year. To put that number in perspective, the National Health Institute, one of the world’s foremost cancer research centers, has an annual budget of around $30 billion. This is not to say more obtainable education is not a cause worth such a dramatically large budget. However, with taxpayers carrying the financial weight of this plan, shouldn’t we ensure it effectively targets the problem?

What would be “free” for the student body of say, the College of William and Mary, would cost taxpayers over $75 billion every year.

What Sanders proposes is just an overall cut at public college tuitions. Every student, every background, all at a cost of zero. While well-intentioned, the flaw in Sanders’ plan is that unobtainable higher education does not fall on the backs of the entire student population. Tuition specifically burdens those of low to moderate income backgrounds. According to whitehouse.gov, half of all people from high-income families have a bachelor’s degree by age 25, while just 1 in 10 people from low-income families do. This is an unacceptably large educational gap, and it highlights even further the need for a more targeted approach.

Now, if you are wondering, as I did, why need-based financial aid isn’t leveling the “paying” field for public college tuition, it is because the government has been decreasing state support for public institutions. According to the Center on Budget and Policy priorities, 13 states have continued to cut funding in the past year. Another shocking fact: in almost all of the states, higher education support remains below what it was in 2008, at the onset of the Great Recession. This retraction of state funds places further financial burden on low to moderate income students, reflected in the 29 percent rise in annual tuition at four-year public institutions since the 2007 school year.

Catharine Hill, president and professor of economics at Vassar College, also rejects the socialist solution to rising tuition costs. Hill argues that the most efficient approach to unobtainable education is simply “stronger need-based financial aid policies and well-structured borrowing”. Once the states prioritize higher education funding specifically geared toward assisting low-moderate income students, we will see the decimation of education inequality.

Email Jenny Cosgrove at [email protected]

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  • Jennifer Cosgrove