TUITION-FREE COLLEGE IS NOT FREE COLLEGE FOR ALL
Before the exchange about Trump and Clinton’s grandchildren, Ramos and Sanders had an exchange that highlighted some of the misconceptions about Sanders’ tuition-free college plan. “No, I do not propose free college tuition, I proposed free tuition at public colleges and universities,” said Sanders.
“So under your plan, potentially, millions of students who can not truly afford college would be getting federal subsidies, is that right?” asked Ramos. “No,” Sanders responded, before jumping into his usual stump speech on the need to treat subsidies for college the same as we treat K-12.
Sanders’ plan does not provide subsidies to individual students, as Ramos suggested, but rather funnels hundreds of billions of dollars to states and universities in order to effectively reduce the price of tuition to zero.
In the media, Sanders’ proposal has sometimes been described as “free college for all” or simply “free college.” This characterization often ignores the fact that millions of Americans attend private or for-profit schools that would not qualify for subsidies under Sanders’ plan. Even if every private college student opted for a tuition-free public university, it’s not clear whether there would be space or faculty to meet the demand.
In addition, just 65.9 percent of high school graduates in 2014 opted to go to college, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Some argue that tuition-free college could cause a rush of enrollment among that remaining 34.1 percent that would only put further strain on a public college system that already serves approximately three out of every four college students.
Some public universities could become more selective as a result while less selective schools like community colleges could face strains on their resources in the face of higher enrollment. These and a range of other potential consequences of tuition-free college are yet to be addressed in detail in the presidential debates on higher education.
Derek Johnson is a writer, journalist and editor based out of Virginia. He received a Master’s degree in Public Policy at George Mason University and a bachelor’s degree in Communication from Hofstra University.