Student orientation begins in the next four weeks, making it a good time to take a closer look at the Democratic presidential candidates’ proposals for “free” college tuition and the cancellation of all outstanding student loan debt. This $2.2 trillion idea is a costly giveaway and slap in the face to the tens of millions of Americans who paid for their own or their children’s college education and have paid off their student loans. It also fails to resolve the underlying causes of the high cost of higher education.
Student loans are typically paid off in 20 years, which means it is highly likely that everyone who attended or graduated college by 1989 no longer has any student debt. That includes all of the Baby Boom generation and almost half of Generation X.
Free college and student loan forgiveness is clearly unfair to all of those individuals. They have already paid in full for their education and reaped the subsequent financial benefits. Now they have to pay again for others to attend college for free and eliminate the debt of those students who have not yet paid it off.
Ironically, these proposals contradict the stated intent of the Democratic candidates to take money away from the wealthy, either by increasing taxes or taking away benefits. The Brookings Institution found that under Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) plan, “nearly half of the estimated $640 billion to be forgiven … would go to the top 40 percent of earners.”
This giveaway for college education does not solve the never-ending increase in tuition, which has been caused by the easy availability of student loans and consequential lack of incentive for colleges and universities to keep tuition low. The more they get, the more they charge. The New York Federal Reserve found that, “for every dollar in new subsidized student loans the government offers, schools jack up the price of tuition by 60 cents.”
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, “the average cost of a four-year education rose by 64 percent” through 2015, reaching more than $80,000 at public institutions and $140,000 at private schools. According to many estimates, in another 20 years, four-year tuition will exceed $100,000 at public colleges and $400,000 at private schools in several states. The $2.2 trillion estimate for free college and student loan forgiveness will rise concomitantly.
Rather than asking for a blank check, institutions of higher education should reduce costs. For example, between 2010 and 2015, the Texas A&M University System cut administrator positions by 19 percent, from 320 to 260. On Jan. 11, 2015, University System Chancellor John Sharp wrote, “to date, our administrative review has identified $230 million in savings opportunities over the next five years … We want your legislators to know that when they send your tax dollars to the Texas A&M University System, we will treat those dollars with respect.”
Democratic presidential candidates have yet to propose any cuts to wasteful spending on education (or anything else). Instead, they have done what most politicians do best — propose new, expensive programs to solve perceived problems rather than finding solutions and then deciding how much needs to be spent.
At the same time that college students are heading to orientation, these big spenders should be directed away from massive giveaways to supporting proposals that will reduce college costs for both taxpayers and students. It would be nice, for a change, to give a few politicians a passing grade.