Free college plan has way too many holes
During his speech Tuesday at the Democratic National Convention, former President Bill Clinton said there are real and affordable solutions to problems facing the nation.
What’s not a problem, however, is college students and/or their families being required to pay the costs of higher education.
And what’s not affordable is the Democratic Party’s presidential platform proposal aimed at guaranteeing tuition-free college educations for most U.S. high school graduates.
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who challenged Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nod, said in his address to convention delegates Monday that he and Hillary Clinton had agreed on a plan that he said would revolutionize higher education in America.
He said that proposal would guarantee that children of any family with an annual income of $125,000 a year or less – 83 percent of America’s population – would be able to attend a public college or university tuition free.
Students and families struggling with the costs of higher education, or wrestling with the prospect of those costs in the future, can be expected to agree with the plan.
However, there are questions and doubts regarding it that deserve serious discussion from the get-go.
First, the doubt: The proposal is unlikely to ever become reality.
That’s because the nation, already plagued by budget deficits, huge costs associated with the ongoing fight against terrorism and a burgeoning national debt, can’t afford it.
On the one hand, Washington is claiming with increasing frequency that Social Security and Medicare benefit cuts will be necessary in the future because of the benefits’ financial toll on the nation’s fiscal health.
While ignoring finding a workable solution to a problem that would adversely affect the country’s increasingly frail elderly and disabled, the Democrats instead choose to remove a justifiable financial burden from able-bodied individuals who will be capable of paying for their higher-education costs over time.
The federal and state governments currently are generous in making available low-interest student loans – the key word is “loans” – to those who qualify for them, with the requirement that the money be repaid.
Under that scenario, it’s to be presumed that the country and states already are losing money from any of their own borrowing tied to making the tuition money available.
It would be wrong for the nation’s taxpayers – including elderly Americans who pay federal income tax on their Social Security benefits – to be required to foot the tuition bill for individuals whose quality of life and financial resources ultimately will be advanced as a result of a college education.
Several more concerns of note:
n How would colleges and universities deal with the student-capacity challenges that a free-tuition plan would entail?
n How much would colleges and universities be financing partying by individuals who otherwise would have had no motivation to enroll?
n How would the free-tuition plan negatively impact armed services recruiting?
Students will appreciate their college opportunities more if they have a financial stake in them.
It should remain students’ and families’ responsibility and priority to find a way to make higher education possible through good planning, temporary sacrifice and study habits that make scholarship and loan opportunities possible.
What Democrats and Republicans alike in Washington should be doing is trying to find ways to make college costs – which are increasing much faster than the inflation rate – more affordable.
There might be a number of good planks in the 2016 Democratic platform, but the tuition proposal isn’t one of them.