Sorry Hillary, but there’s no such thing as ‘free’ tuition

Hillary Clinton while Bernie Sanders endorses her in Portsmouth, N.H., July 12.

Hillary Clinton while Bernie Sanders endorses her in Portsmouth, N.H., July 12.

Bernie Sanders endorsed Hillary Clinton this week, but not before she endorsed a key bit of Sandersism by proposing “free” college tuition for 8 in 10 American families.

Some people wondered why it took Sanders so long to announce his official support of Clinton. The answer always seemed clear to me: He wanted to maximize his leverage over the Democratic platform and, more important, Clinton’s own agenda. For while Donald Trump struggles to unify the GOP, Clinton has faced her own challenges in winning over Sanders’ loyalists, particularly millennials.

Looks like Sanders’ approach worked.

The draft of the platform is as left-wing as it has been in some time. It incorporates Sanders’ bid to raise the national minimum wage to $15 an hour (even Clinton has resisted going quite so high everywhere) and it lurches even further away from the center on issues ranging from business regulation to the death penalty to the Second Amendment.

Clinton’s reputation as a moderate was always overblown, and as she fought to put down the Sanders insurgency she also crippled what little reason voters still had to believe she was any kind of centrist. Joining the Vermont socialist in wanting to dump college tuition costs onto taxpayers is just the latest blow.

There is no such thing as “free” tuition. Someone pays for it. Here in Georgia, public-college tuition was “free” for students with a “B” average — so long as they didn’t buy the lottery tickets that actually paid the bills. Even that tuition bill represented only a portion of the cost of their attending college; taxpayers picked up the rest of the tab, via the annual appropriation to the Board of Regents.

All of that state funding is on top of Pell Grants and other federal programs that already total $150 billion a year. That sum is spread among 13 million students, meaning U.S. taxpayers already subsidize roughly two-thirds of U.S. post-secondary students to the tune of $11,500 per year per recipient on average. And again, that is beyond what states and private sources add.

Yet, despite all that spending, college is widely considered to be less affordable than ever. Or maybe I should say, because of all that spending.

The price of something doesn’t go down just because someone else starts paying for it. On the contrary, it tends to go up when that happens. What are three of the consumer expenditures whose price increases have most sharply outpaced general inflation? Higher education, health care and housing. What are three of the consumer expenditures most heavily subsidized by taxpayers? Higher education, health care and housing.

Right now, what little downward pressure there is on tuition exists because students and their families have to save or borrow to pay some of the costs. Take away that need to chip in some of the costs and incentive to be even somewhat frugal, and the collective bill will only climb.

Say goodbye to loan payments for your own tuition until it’s paid off, and hello to paying taxes for everyone’s tuition until, well, you die.

What’s more, declaring public college tuition to be “free” will only put more of a premium on private colleges, putting them even more out of reach for the average student. We’ll have a two-track system that resembles the one we have for those with private health insurance and those stuck trying to find a doctor who will accept Medicaid.

Call it Educaid, the closest thing to a new idea the presumptive Democratic nominee has in this election.

Reader Comments 0

81 comments
Gabriel Gonzalez
Gabriel Gonzalez

But foreign illegal wars are free? Fix your priorities GOP

TheCentrist
TheCentrist

There was a time when a "free" high school diploma was sufficient education for someone to obtain a job with a living wage.

Deona Smith
Deona Smith

Well of course it's not going to be free. No one expects it to be free, but hey a corporate tax would definitely lighten the load.

Ron Lewis
Ron Lewis

Not stupid, just don't have their heads up their

Johnny Knight
Johnny Knight

DELTA is giving free movies on flights too.....LOL sure they are.

Daniel McDowell
Daniel McDowell

billions of dollars we send to israel to support their war crimes we could divert to us education... bam..money for free college!

Jefferson1776
Jefferson1776

and the Marietta Braves don't need a free bridge to walk across the interstate either...

xxxzzz
xxxzzz

@Jefferson1776 And Reed's Falcon's don't need $300+ million to replace a 25 year old stadium in very good shape.

TheCentrist
TheCentrist

@xxxzzz @Jefferson1776 The phrase "free" is being use in the same manner as "public." 


There was nothing wrong with Turner Field either.  The difference is that the Mercedes Dome will have a tremendous positive economic impact on the City and the State as compared to the Braves' stadium.


If you think otherwise, have your local representatives pass a referendum that says any funds derived from the boost in their economy will be forwarded to Atlanta and Fulton County.

MarkVV
MarkVV

The whole debate avoids, from the side of “free college tuition” opponents, the basic issue. Should the taxpayers pay for something that benefits a small section of the population, with the argument that as a whole a better educated population benefits the whole country. Many developed, industrialized countries have answered the question affirmatively.

And I have added an example of space exploration. We pay in taxes for the NASA budget. The argument is that it is for the benefit of the mankind, including us and our children, both in immediate technological developments and in a wider sense of scientific knowledge of the universe.

Kyle responded with “Funny, given the amount of private investment currently going into commercial space companies,” a completely nonsensical response. If he is in favor of cancelling the NASA budget and leave all the exploration to commercial space companies, he should say it directly with appropriate arguments.

That issue becomes even funnier when another free tuition opponent argues that we have sent a man to the Moon without having free college tuition. Who paid for that? We got all the benefits of that without “paying for it” (other than in taxes, as we would for free college tuition). Another “free lunch?” 

TGT88
TGT88

@MarkVV The race to space and the creation of NASA were matters of national defense, hence the very appropriate involvement of the federal govt.

MarkVV
MarkVV

@TGT88 @MarkVV No, they were matters of national interest, just like educated population.

anguslee
anguslee

It's a good thing colleges ain't interested in profits and higher tuition so to buy prestigious fatball teams and all. 'Cause if'n they did, they would raise prices to pay off those stadiums and locker rooms and nice dorms them athletes lives in. An them chancellors and pobahs wouldn't git to go to teas with them Koch brothers what wants them colleges to work fer them and not fer, like folks widout billions. It's them whut gradiated from good schools what teach Old Testament virtues and not that scientific rot about Evilutoon ur climate alteration that need lower taxes ever year. It don matter that them low taxes never git it done fer the country. Hail, $11,000 a year pays fer lots uh college. That much could buy lots of textbooks from gawd fearin Texas gubment Holy Rollers. Whut we need is to give the Boeing's funds fer another F. Like an F-40. F-35, at a billion per plane don't work quite right.

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

How do those "free" bicycle loaning programs work out?


Slick Willy made 6 Million working as a board member of Laureate Education, which is a for profit firm, that rips off individuals around the world, so don't blame for profits on the GOP.  Clinton probably rebated them some of that money using donations to his Clinton Global corruption initiative.  That is how things go when you have Clinton privilege.

MarkVV
MarkVV

@RafeHollister " Clinton probably rebated them some of that money using donations to his Clinton Global corruption initiative. "
Can you prove that accusation?

TheBrewer
TheBrewer

@RafeHollister


Folks on the left blame the GOP for everything. Even though they have zero proof that the GOP has ever done anything destructive to education they still blame them.


RafeHollister
RafeHollister

You are right Kyle, Georgia should be a perfect example of how tuition rises when demand soars and there is no check on the rise. The university system got away with exploding rate increases in Georgia because the students didn't care, they got "free" tuition and a book allowance, back in the day.  Then the "free" money, as Margaret Thatcher warned us of, ran out.  Now the students only get a pittance of help and are struggling, as the Univ System halted the exploding increases, but never rolled back tuition prices.  This is happening at a time when a college degree is becoming less and less valuable, because all our high tech jobs are outsourced or we bring in cheap labor with H-1B visas to take those jobs.


This is what the #Nevertrump crowd is inviting, absolutely radical leftwing policies of free everything, more regulations, more gun control, more political correctness, leftwing courts, open borders and more importation of immigrants raised on socialistic benefits.  America is the greatest country ever created by man and we are slowly allowing it to sink into the new world mediocrity. 

MarkVV
MarkVV

Why don’t we apply the same (euphemistically called) “thinking” to other subjects? Should the government pay for space exploration? Let those who are interested pay for it? There is no free lunch! You say that there will be benefits for all of us? Is that not true for a better educated population? 

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@MarkVV Funny, given the amount of private investment currently going into commercial space companies.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@MarkVV You've also failed to note that, as mentioned in the column, the government already spends $150B a year at the federal level, and (at least) tens of billions more at the state level, and not one word of this piece suggests cutting that in order to "let those who are interested pay for it." The argument is about spending even more taxpayer money.

But if I woke up every morning hell-bent on arguing with whatever had been posted on this blog, perhaps that's the best I would have come up with, too.

MarkVV
MarkVV

@Kyle_Wingfield @MarkVV I have not claimed that you have suggested cutting the current spending. My argument is that it is in the interest of the country to have the best educated population possible. If you claim that “free tuition” would not contribute to that, then I simply disagree, like many other people.

“But if I woke up every morning hell-bent on arguing with whatever had been posted on this blog, perhaps that's the best I would have come up with, too.”

Your personal attacks on me only show your intellectual impotence. They are also stupid, because it can be easily proven that I do not “woke up every morning hell-bent on arguing with whatever had been posted on this blog.” I disagree with many things you write, and there is a section called “comments” following your articles. If you want only comments from your sycophants, spell it out.

TheBrewer
TheBrewer

@MarkVV

"Should the government pay for space exploration?"

You really are behind.

TheBrewer
TheBrewer

@MarkVV @TheBrewer

Thin skin I see. I didn't insult you. I just said you're behind. Do you know what behind means?

NASA is no longer a government funded entity. You asked a question which was answered years ago. Maybe you missed 60 mins?

TheBrewer
TheBrewer

@MarkVV @Kyle_Wingfield

"Your personal attacks on me only show your intellectual impotence. They are also stupid"

Oh the irony. The words "personal attacks" don't mean what you think they mean. Kyle wasn't attacking you. He was merely pointing out that you like to argue with anyone and then cry when someone hits back. 

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@MarkVV Misrepresent what I wrote: check

Move the goal posts when I call you out on it: check

Complain about a "personal attack": check

In other words, it's just another day ending with "y."

MarkVV
MarkVV

@Kyle_Wingfield @MarkVV Another bunch of accusation without any proof (other than the complaint about personal attacks). Just another intellectual dishonesty from Mr. Kyle Wingfield.

TheBrewer
TheBrewer

Hedley and Mark,


Do either of you hold a college degree and if so, what? I'm just curious because most educated people I know laugh at the idea of "free tuition." 



MarkVV
MarkVV

@TheBrewer Yes, I do, the highest one, from one of the best colleges in this country, and most educated people I know, which means many, are in favor of free tuition.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@MarkVV @TheBrewer These "have you gone to college/yes a super-duper one" exchanges have traditionally been among the most inane discussions on this blog's comment threads -- which is saying something -- so let's stop it right there.

TheBrewer
TheBrewer

"What’s more, declaring public college tuition to be “free” will only put more of a premium on private colleges, putting them even more out of reach for the average student. "


Yeah, private universities will suffer big time. The private universities are superior. 

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@TheBrewer Generally, the ones that are, are by dent of the students who choose to attend.

TheBrewer
TheBrewer

So the left has promised free health care and health care costs have skyrocketed.


Now they're offering free college tuition. OH, that should be fun.


Next, it'll be free food and free housing to everyone. 

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@TheBrewer So the left has promised free health care and health care costs have skyrocketed.


Actually they haven't. Have they gone up. Yes but they did before.

TheBrewer
TheBrewer

@Hedley_Lammar @TheBrewer


Talk to Obamacare recipients and you'll be singing a different tune. I know several and they all hate it but they have no other choice. 

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@TheBrewer @Hedley_Lammar He can speak for himself, but I'm pretty sure that by "rate" he meant the incidence of being uninsured, not the premiums. Not least because uninsured people don't pay premiums.