Clinton’s critics say college tuition proposal won’t reach poorest families | The Knowledge Dynasty

Clinton’s critics say college tuition proposal won’t reach poorest families

As students head off to campus and parents start writing hefty checks, Clinton’s plan is fielding attacks not just from disappointed Sanders supporters but also the right and even the center.

Free college for 80% of American households? Who couldnt fall in love with a proposal like that?

Plenty of us, it seems. Either Hillary Clintons plan to make attending college more affordable by making it free to families of four with incomes of $85,000 or less doesnt go far enough, or it goes too far.

The Democratic nominee cant seem to get many people to celebrate one of the linchpins of her campaign. Even those on the left view this simply as a watered-down version of what Bernie Sanders proposed in the primary: making all public colleges and universities free to attend for everyone, regardless of income.

Clintons tweaks to the plan recognize the fact that a universal tuition-free system would give the children of affluent families a free ride that they dont need. But as students head off to campus and parents, wincing, start writing hefty checks, the Clinton plan is fielding attacks not just from disappointed Sanders supporters but also the right and even the center.

The truth is, the critics may all be right. Like healthcare, higher education in the US is a complex web. Wading in and dramatically altering one part of it public colleges and universities and their relationship with the federal government without having a detailed plan to address the fallout on another part, private colleges, would be foolish.

Some could see enrollment drop sharply and some not the Yales and Princetons, but the smaller institutions that play a valuable role may have to close their doors.

Moreover, what would the plan mean for how different states fund their public institutions? Chaos could follow if such details were not carefully considered and even if they are.

Consider Obamacare. Yes, millions of previously-uninsured Americans now have access to doctors, but others can no longer see long-time family physicians who dont accept Obamacare policies while some must switch policies every year as providers drop off exchanges or ratchet up premiums and deductibles.

Add to such concerns the fact that the more money the federal government injects into the education system, the higher tuition rises. A 2015 study by the Federal Reserve of New York documented this lockstep relationship, having set out to examine the impact of greater access to credit on tuition. What they found was not just correlation, the Feds analysts concluded, but causation.

Institutions more exposed to changes in these programs increased their tuition disproportionately around these policy changes, the study said. The result: Colleges collected 60% of all additional aid, whether by increasing tuition bills or cutting back on the grants they offered to students. Why would a 100% tuition subsidy be any different? Whats more, this time it would be the taxpayer footing the bill.

There is no question that no one who wants to attend college and who is qualified to attend should be unable to go simply because they cannot cobble together the right loans and grants, or because they are too anxious about what kind of debt burden awaits. It is not in our national interest to ration access to college according to who can afford to pay, or who is savviest at working the system.

But before we implement a costly and revolutionary free-college plan, it might be worth asking how likely it is to achieve its most important objective: a closing of the wealth gap.

Will it mean more students from lower-income families can attend college a significant enough shift to really have an impact? Or will it just be a big help to middle class families with two or three children?

Sure, that would ensure that such families wouldnt have to make any difficult economic tradeoffs. For a middle class family, free tuition might spell the difference between allowing a child to graduate with or without debt. But that wouldnt be transformative. It would not mean the difference between living in poverty and living in the middle class.

Clintons plan may well not make a difference for students from the poorest families either. With more students who dont have to worry about their ability to foot a tuition bill, state colleges still wont be able to admit everyone who knocks on their door. They will become increasingly selective: more students will find themselves without access to free college. And those who win admittance wont necessarily be those students who most need the free part of it.

The poorer a student is, the more likely he or she is to have come from a school in a low-income neighborhood that has fewer resources and where tremendous barriers exist to academic achievement. Such a student will have to compete against those from wealthier communities. The absence of tuition fees might become academic. Those who do defy the odds will triumph, but its not going to be any easier and it may be tougher.

All of these plans attack the college cost problem and it is a very, very large problem from the perspective of alleviating what students end up paying, whether in the form of tuition bills or debt relief.

Why arent any politicians discussing what colleges could do to address the affordability crisis? Why are numbers of administrators soaring, even as colleges and universities cut back on academic instructors or shift to using adjunct professors, some of whom end up living at the poverty level themselves? What is the rationale for paying six-figure salaries to members of bloated administrative staffs, when the typical member of the class of 2016 graduated with $37,172 of debt?

Where are the proposals for colleges to put some of their own money on the line? If they are convinced these tuition levels are correct, and that degrees students earn translate into well-paying jobs enabling them to pay off the debt rapidly, then perhaps they will be willing to work alongside governments in solving the affordability crisis. If not, why not?

Clearly, ready access to federal government/taxpayer-backed funds and private loans has enabled colleges to expand, to pay administrative staff well, to overhaul buildings if not always to pay academic staff well or support all the academic programs they once provided.

Some colleges understand this. At one small liberal arts college, Washington College, Sheila Bair, former head of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, gave all graduating seniors who took out federal loans to cover their final spring semester a grant to pay off that amount, at an average of $2,630. That will cut the debt burden for graduates by about 10% immediately, and given that debt accrues interest, could end up being even more valuable.

Bair has put in place another program to fund gifted but financially needy students. When an administrator asks to hire a new staff member or spend money on something, Bair asks whether its worth sacrificing the education of one such student. That, she says, usually stops them.

Big, bold solutions like free college education are wonderful for drawing attention to a crisis. But would they solve the crisis, or just create two or three more small but equally significant ones?

Why not lean on the architects of this crisis, the states that have chopped funding to colleges and the colleges which have continued to raise tuition rates, and establish a creative series of sticks and carrots for reducing the tuition burden and the level of debt under which students stagger?

Its no trickier than trying to implement all the details that would flow from making college free for every family of four with an income of $85,000 or less, even if its less emotionally satisfying. And it might work.

In the meantime, Clinton could also shift her attention to the problem of segregated schools in the poorest parts of the country, with the most scanty resources. Their graduates are those who simply will not have the chance to grab a college place, free or not.

If we want to close the wealth gap and really address economic inequality, that is where we need to direct our resources and efforts.

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