In this post, I will discuss the Conservatives’ view on tuition-free college education. Later this week, I will write a post expressing my evaluation of the Liberal and Conservative views and my personal opinion. As we learned in last week’s post, Liberals claim that the government should provide tuition-free college education. They believe this will lead to better-educated citizens, a narrowing of the skills gap, and a healthier, more productive, and happier society. On the other hand, Conservatives believe that providing tuition-free college is an unreasonable solution. They claim that free college doesn’t exist, tuition prices are not the main obstacle to student success, believe this issue should be handled by the private sector instead of the government, and claim that the quality of tuition-free colleges would not meet college students’ expectations.
President Donald Trump claimed that, “…there’s no such thing as free education.” 1** Andrew P. Kelly, a resident scholar and the director of the Center on Higher Education Reform at the American Enterprise Institute, echoes Trump’s words. He states, “Free college isn’t free, it simply shifts costs from students to taxpayers and caps tuition at zero…… (The tuition cap) does not change the cost of college, or what institutions actually spend per student.” In Kelly’s article entitled, “The Problem Is That Free College Isn’t Free”, he stated that because they were unable to raise additional money through a tuition increase, California’s community colleges were forced to turn away 600,000 students during the recession. This demonstrates his claim that, “a national push for tuition-free college would strain public budgets even further, leading to shortages rather than increased access.” 2*
Andrew P. Kelly addresses another interesting aspect of the Conservative viewpoint. He claims that tuition prices are not necessarily the main obstacle to student success, and other problems such as educational quality and college readiness should be taken into consideration. Federal grants cover the price of tuition for the average low-income student at community colleges. Despite free tuition, only one-third of students from the bottom income quartile who started at a community college in 2003 finished a degree or certificate by 2009. The numbers are equally disheartening for two-year students from the top income quartile (42 percent). 2* These and other statistics tell a similar story: it’s not just about the money. Andrew P. Kelly echoes the opinion of many when he suggests that policymakers should, “…target those resources toward those who need it most and empower them to choose the option—public or private—that fits their needs. A valuable degree is worth the investment even if you have to pay something for it.” 2*
The Conservative’s third point is based upon a core platform belief: the less government, the better. They believe the government should stop providing loans to college students. They sate that the private sector should be in charge of resolving this issue, not the federal government. A U.S. Today article states that, “…empowering the private-sector loan market will “give students access to a multitude of financing options” and drive down tuition costs by encouraging market competition.” 3*
The Libertarians would agree with the Conservative’s third argument. According to Libertarian Gary Johnson, “…the high cost of college tuition has everything to do with guaranteed student loans.” 1* Banks have incentive to loan money to any kind of student at any kind of school. Since student loans are guaranteed by the Federal government, no one has any incentive to help students make wise educational decisions. This results in many students leaving college with large amounts of student loan debt without ever graduating with a useful degree. Because colleges have little (if any) incentive to lower their tuition prices, tuition continues to increase.
Finally, while free college sounds very appealing, many Americans would not appreciate the limited amenities free-tuition colleges would be able to offer. For example, tuition-free universities in Germany usually don’t provide sports, dorms, elaborate food, subsidized clubs and extracurricular activities, academic remediation, or flexibility in majors. 4* German colleges are, “…limited in their tasks, and therefore cheaper to run, than their American counterparts.” This type of higher education works well with highly motivated, mature students. However, “relatively few American students would flourish on these same terms.” 4*
In conclusion, Conservatives believe that tuition-free college is a flawed policy. First, “free college” is not actually free and transfers the financial burden from students to taxpayers. Second, Liberals assume that money is the main obstacle preventing students from obtaining a college education. However, they have failed to consider other problems such as educational quality and college readiness. Third, Conservatives believe that the government should stop guaranteeing student loans. They claim the private sector should handle this issue. Finally, Conservatives argue that the quality of tuition-free college education would not meet American standards.
1** ALSO SEE: Fox News Insider, “Trump: “There’s No Such Thing as Free Education,’ Bernie,” insider.foxnews.com, Apr. 3, 2016