Clinton’s Pitching $350 Billion in “Free” College

Earlier this month we learned that the Class of 2015 posted the lowest SAT college entrance exam scores in more than 40 years. Yet Hillary Clinton says college is an entitlement—not an opportunity that’s earned.

Clinton will host a community forum today on college affordability in Durham, New Hampshire. We’ll recall that last month Clinton unveiled her “New College Compact,” stating:

College is supposed to help people achieve their dreams, but more and more paying for college actually pushes those dreams further and further out of reach…That is a betrayal of everything college is supposed to represents [sic].

Under Clinton’s compact the federal government would “incentivize” the states to offer “no-loan tuition at four-year public colleges and universities” through grants.

Higher education should be a right, not a privilege for those who can afford it,” according to a video promoting Clinton’s plan.

Along with her promise of debt-free four-year degrees, Clinton is also pledging to make two-year community college degrees “free.”

So how much is all this “free” going to cost? Approximately $350 billion over the next 10 years.

Some Republican “tuition freeze” counter-proposals aren’t much better.

Why? Because Clinton’s scheme, and others like it, would simply shift college costs, not lower them.

Whether it’s Congress fiddling with student loan interest rates or Obama issuing college score cards, a fix for soaring college costs won’t come from Washington because Washington is a grade-A enabler.

The more money Washington—and under Clinton’s plan the states, too—pour into higher education bureaucracies, the more those bureaucracies grow.

The solution to soaring college costs is making postsecondary institutions compete for students and their associated education dollars. Rather than funneling taxpayer dollars through Washington, then back to the states, then out to postsecondary institutions, free students and their families to save more of their hard-earned tax dollars in the first place.

Next, any public funding should be directed to individual students in the form of performance grants based on demonstrated financial need (better yet, encourage more private philanthropic organizations to help out). Students can take those funds to any institution they wish, but they must successfully complete their chosen degree programs or their performance grants become loans that students must repay at the going market rate.

Furthermore, if college or advanced degrees are so critically important to employers, they should be willing to invest in their future workforce one student at a time. Agree to pay some or all of students’ college education in exchange for students coming to work for a specified period of time after graduation. Such human capital contracts would better ensure that students are getting the knowledge and skills they need out of their degree programs, or employers would no longer pay for students to attend low quality programs.

Such an approach would also better ensure that postsecondary institutions offer high quality programs with real-world skills at the best possible prices. Otherwise, students would be free to take their money elsewhere.

Best of all, having students and their future employers finance college degrees, and forcing colleges to compete and keep costs down, helps keep Washington out of higher education—and taxpayers’ wallets.

Instead of more demands that college be “free,” we should demand that higher education be more free market.

Vicki E, Alger is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and Senior Fellow and Director of the Women for School Choice Project at the Independent Women’s Forum. She is the author of the Independent book, Failure: The Federal Misedukation of America’s Children.
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