LPA Foundation
Presidential Issues: Education


View all Articles by News and Views

The problem is that free college isn’t free

January 20, 2016

By Andrew P. Kelly

“Free public college” is a great political talking point, but it is flawed policy.

First, free college isn’t free, it simply shifts costs from students to taxpayers and caps tuition at zero. That tuition cap limits college spending to whatever the public is willing to invest. But it does not change the cost of college, or what institutions actually spend per student. If the past is any guide, that cost will continue to grow, and an influx of federal money may lead profligate administrators to spend even more. Enrollments will also increase, further multiplying the cost of free college.

The key question, then, is what happens if public generosity does not keep pace with rising college costs, increases in demand, or both? Barring a drastic improvement in efficiency, tuition-free colleges won’t have the resources to serve additional students without compromising the quality of their offerings.

As progressive advocates of free college are so eager to point out, public funding hasn’t kept up with such changes in the past. For instance, California has the cheapest community college fees in the nation. During the recession, enrollments boomed and the state budget for higher education took a hit. Unable to raise additional revenue through a tuition increase, California’s community collegesturned away 600,000 students.

Read the full article at the American Enterprise Institute: The problem is that free college isn’t free

Issue Categories : Education,