Hillary Clinton launched her presidential campaign with a mission to make college debt-free for many low-income students, latching on to an initiative endorsed by Barack Obama years ago. But, after being driven to the left by Sen. Bernie Sanders, Hillary is now proposing a new plan: Free in-state college for anyone whose family brings in less than $125,000 a year. And like so many Democratic Party initiatives, this one could have plenty of unintended consequences.
The cost of higher education has skyrocketed over the last decade, and Democrats have been on the front lines of the issue. Unfortunately, their prescription – more government aid, lower-cost loans – have only exacerbated the problem. These universities have used government subsidies as their own cash cow, raising rates with every new supplemental program and keeping their coffers filled to the brim. Politicians are increasing aid to combat rising tuition costs; colleges are raising tuition costs to take advantage of the increased aid.
With this pattern well-established, free college would be anything but. The majority of low-income students would get their free ride, but families making $125,001 are going to pay through the nose. And that doesn’t even begin to take into account the tax hikes required to keep this program solvent. Hillary has made some vague promises about keeping colleges fiscally-accountable, but those are hardly comforting.
Worse, there’s no telling what kind of power students will lose once the federal government is fully in charge of footing their educational bill. If taxpayers are picking up the tab, should the public get a say in which major John Q. Freshman chooses to pursue? Will liberal Democrats want to punish any college that teaches a conservative view of economics? The dark possibilities are boundless.
We have to do something about the exorbitant college tuition rates putting a generation of students into life-long debt, but Hillary’s answer is the worst of the serious solutions. We’re doubling down on the very same policies that started this mess. State schools have been publicly subsidized from the beginning, but not like this. These schools are gleefully raising rates, knowing that the federal government will respond with more aid. Hillary’s proposal essentially guarantees that this will be the case in the coming years. The result will be more of the same.