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Wake Up, America: 'Free College' Is an Illusion

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For many students thinking of attending college, ever-inflating tuition costs and thoughts of burdensome post-college debt prevent them from even beginning to achieve their academic goals.

As a result, cries for tuition-free higher education have become deafening in recent years, an idea which has been popularized by high-profile progressives such as self-described democratic socialist, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Their rhetoric has become incredibly popular among younger Americans, which has them flocking to leftist politicians promising a “free” college education to anyone who wants one. Americans must understand the misconceptions about tuition-free higher education and put an end to this pseudo-socialist idea.

As famed free-market economist Milton Freidman often said, “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.” To put it simply, if it’s free, there’s going to be strings attached. Leftist politicians love to tout their idea of universally free higher education — it makes a good headline — but they fail to mention its shortcomings. Since the politicians choose to lie to the American people, we must do the digging on our own. Before we introduce a monumental program like this into the federal sphere, let’s look at programs that have already been implemented in individual states.

Currently, 17 states have some form of tuition-free college programs across the country, the most recent and most comprehensive being in New York. In 2017, New York state implemented a program called the Excelsior Scholarship to help eligible lower and middle-class students attend state schools for free.

After the announcement of the program, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s spokesperson said “Governor Cuomo is a national champion for college affordability … We are proud of our record and committed to providing a high quality affordable college education to all New York students.” Very modest, wouldn’t you say?

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Despite his office being committed to an affordable college education “to all New York students,” a report by the Center for an Urban Future in 2018 showed that 43,513 out of the 63,599 students that applied for the Excelsior Scholarship were denied, an astounding 68 percent rejection rate. One of the biggest issues with tuition-free college is the selectivity process. With so many applicants and a finite amount of resources to handle them, it’s no surprise that the majority of applicants were denied. It’s basic economics. Cuomo and tuition-free advocates need a refresher course on the principle of supply and demand.

Another report about the Excelsior program revealed that only 3.2 percent of all 633,543 undergraduates in New York state benefited from the Excelsior program. Not only that, but the price tag of implementing this scholarship was roughly $163 million after one year. $163 million to help only 3.2 percent. If we scale that figure to 100 percent of all undergraduates and the estimated cost would be over $5,000,000,000. Yes, that’s nine zeroes. For a single year.

Remember also, this is only the price tag for implementation in a single state. There is just simply not enough state and federal money to provide a high-quality education to every student who wants one without hiking taxes to a suffocating rate. It would be economically impossible and ruinous for the state of New York and the rest of the country to implement a universal free college system.

Another glaring issue with free college is the relationship between the amount a student pays toward their education and their graduation rate. Countries around the globe and states in the U.S. that have free higher education systems have noticeably lower graduation rates compared to countries and states that charge tuition. It makes sense if you think about it for more than a minute. When a student sees their tuition bill or reads the terms of their student loan, they truly understand the weight of their decision. Students will work harder and be more committed to their education knowing that each credit hour is costing them money out of their own pocket, not from the government or the taxpayer.

According to Forbes, the average dropout rate at a tuition-free community college is a staggering 47 percent. At a four year private, for-profit institution, the dropout rate is just 17 percent. Schools with the lowest cost of attendance have some of the lowest graduation rates in the country. It’s clear that the less an individual pays to attend a higher education institution, the more likely they are to drop out. So why would it be appropriate for taxpayers to pay for a student to earn half their degree and then drop out? How does that benefit society? While obviously not all students with low or free tuition drop out, the percentage of those who do compared to full-paying students is an issue that can not be swept aside.

Before we implement a universal tuition-free program for higher education, we need younger Americans and politicians to understand the facts. There are already glaring issues in current tuition-free systems that prove to be severely detrimental to their respective states. A nation-wide application of such a system would be cataclysmic.

Democratic politicians use lies and clever political re-branding to make their program seem reasonable. Our generation can no longer sit idly by and accept their distortion of reality. Free college is not, and will never be, free.

Daniel Kopp is a young conservative activist and writer committed to giving a voice to younger Americans. He recently founded the Next Generations Conservative PAC, a non-profit political action committee dedicated to electing true conservative representatives. He is currently a student at Miami University where he is pursuing a degree in Business Economics.

The views expressed in this opinion article are those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by the owners of this website. If you are interested in contributing an Op-Ed to The Western Journal, you can learn about our submission guidelines and process here.

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