The Dark Side of Joe Biden’s Free Tuition Plan

Do you want to go to college for free?

Who knows? Maybe you could take an economics class and learn that nothing of value is really free, and things aren’t always as good as they might seem at first glance – like those promises associated with free Classes.

And there’s a good chance the American people as a whole will learn this too, without stepping into a classroom, if President Joe Biden’s free tuition plan for community colleges finds its place in law.

The plan is expensive and unnecessary, and history shows it would miss the mark, helping those who don’t need it.

Low-income students already have easy access to Pell Grants and other aids that help pay for community college tuition, which negates the president’s plan’s only stated purpose.

The College Board, a nonprofit organization established in 1899 to expand access to higher education, recently released a report which concluded: “Since 2009-2010, full-time undergraduates for the first time in two-year public colleges receive a sufficient grant on average to cover their tuition and fees. “

In other words, we already have it. Low-income students already have the means to acquire free associate’s degrees. The same report also notes that two-year public tuition fees average $ 3,770, compared to $ 10,560 for state students at four-year public universities and $ 37,650 for private-purpose universities. four-year nonprofit.

The community college is the product of free tuition, except there really isn’t much fruit there, at all. But the plan would be far from free.

The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimates that part of the US plan for Biden’s families would cost $ 109 billion. Much of that would likely go to students from wealthier families who otherwise could afford the relatively low cost of a community college.

Granted, $ 109 billion appears to be a pocket shift from the trillions former President Donald Trump and Congress added to the national debt, and the trillions more Biden proposed to add.

But this money would bring the nose of the camel into the tent of higher education. The country cannot afford to go there without a thorough review of what people in countries that already offer free classes at four-year institutions have learned.

The first lesson is that the free courses are increasing – no surprise here – enrollments. At the same time, it takes an important source of funding – school fees – away from schools. Even with the additional funding provided by the government, some European countries have found that education funding is too limited.

The Hechinger report, which covers inequalities and innovation in education, found that free tuition in Germany led to a 10% drop in spending per student on higher education, to levels well below those of the United States.

Mandy Gratz, executive committee member of the German Students’ Union, described how German undergraduates sit in lecture halls “with hundreds and hundreds of students,” taught by doctoral students, not professors. Universities “say they don’t have enough money for research. But they also don’t have enough money to teach, ”she told the report.

In Sweden, the free market think tank Timbro concluded that free tuition has not helped low-income students at all. He noted that the country has a lower proportion of students from “socio-economically weak households” than the average of the 36 member countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

A recent report by Timbro on free tuition found: “It is mainly students with highly educated parents who are subsidized by the current system.” In addition, Sweden has seen fewer graduates than the OECD average. When something is free, it is not as valued.

The poor face many more challenges and obstacles to obtaining a university degree than tuition alone. The lesser of these covers basic living expenses while in school.

None of this is to suggest that higher education in the United States doesn’t need sweeping reform, or that the nation shouldn’t find more ways to help low-income people earn degrees. . Biden’s free tuition plan is popular because the cost of a college education – especially earning a bachelor’s degree or higher, has become excessively expensive.

According to, people with student loans owed a total of $ 1.67 trillion last June. In 2019, 62% of all college graduates were left with student loan debt averaging $ 28,950. Free tuition would not solve the staggering cost of higher education, it would simply distribute it among all taxpayers.

Meanwhile, the Brookings Institution recently cited studies showing that the lure of the free community college would divert significant numbers of students from four-year universities, potentially reducing the number of bachelor’s degrees earned.

The nation would be better served by focusing on ways to lower overall education costs, as well as innovative loan structures that incent students to complete their education and get jobs. Emphasis should be placed on helping low-income students to overcome any obstacles they face in obtaining university degrees and on reducing overall costs.

One of the worst arguments against free tuition is that it is unfair to force all Americans to pay for higher education. The truth is that the nation as a whole would benefit from a system that provides accessible and affordable degrees to as many people as possible.

But Biden’s bright and alluring idea won’t get us there.

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About Therese Williams

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