Clinton proposes free college tuition for students at in-state universities with the New College Compact
In July, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton proposed a New College Compact, which would make tuition at four-year, in-state, public colleges and universities free for any student with a family that earns $85,000 or less a year. By the year 2021, free tuition would extend to students with families that earn $125,000 or less a year.
With the new compact, Clinton adopted one of the core stances of her former opponent Senator Bernie Sanders, who proposed to make tuition for in-state universities free for all.
Clinton claims that the cost of college is one of the most concerning issues she hears about on the campaign trail. With the New College Compact, she will attempt to broaden accessibility to higher education.
“We appreciate that Mrs. Clinton understands that states are disinvesting from higher education in their states,” Peter McPherson, president of the Association of Public and Landgrant Universities, told the New York Times in September.
Though the compact is initially appealing to educators and students, skeptics are concerned about the probability that the program can be financed.
Clinton’s plan is estimated to be a $500 billion investment that will last over a decade. Clinton says that the program will be financed with money gained from fixing loopholes in taxes. Additional information about sources of money is unclear.
Skeptics are also concerned about the unintended effects that would result from the compact.
By offering free tuition for students at state universities, Clinton’s compact incentivizes students to enroll at public universities like the University of Minnesota and as a result, draws students away from private institutions like St. Olaf.
A recent study conducted by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce projected that after enforcement of the New College Compact, enrollment at public colleges could increase by up to 22 percent and enrollment at private colleges could decrease by 15 percent.
Therefore, by making state college affordable to more families, the number of students applying to these public universities would increase.
As a result, public universities could be more selective with admissions, while simultaneously increasing enrollment. These institutions might even encounter over-enrollment, resulting in an insufficient amount of space and resources for incoming students, which may lead to even further expenses to construct facilities.
In contrast, fewer students would apply to private colleges because free tuition would not be applicable at such schools. With less demand for private education, colleges like St. Olaf College and Bethel University would be forced to either admit only students who could pay full tuition or raise tuition prices in order to match the financial aid offered at state schools.
Thus, private institutions would become less diverse in socioeconomic regard, and students would have to pay more to attend.
Therefore, for students like senior Drew Cairns, Clinton’s proposal would pose as an obstacle rather than a benefit.
Cairns hopes to attend a small private college next fall.
“My top schools, as of now, are Drake University and Whitworth University,” Cairns said. “Based on Clinton’s plan, my desire to go to a smaller private institution could be placed in jeopardy as these [private] schools lose potential students to state schools and could therefore cause my tuition to go up.”
Cairns is concerned about the direct consequences Clinton’s compact would have on his aspirations.
“I want to go to a school where I feel close and connected to the community, and that may not be possible with this new proposed plan.”
In contrast, Clinton’s New College Compact could significantly benefit any student who reaches the requirements of the compact and who has hopes to attend a state university.
Senior Britta Chelgren, who is interested in attending the University of Minnesota, perked up in response to Clinton’s plan.
“Hillary’s plan would really help me because my top choices are already public schools anyway,” Chelgren said. “Cost is the primary factor that I have to consider for college. That’s why I’m looking at primarily larger state schools that offer in-state tuition or reciprocity.”
Unlike Cairns, Chelgren recognizes the benefits she could reap from the New College Compact.
“The plan would enable me to attend the U of M and graduate debt-free,” she said. “That’s the dream: no debt, no problems.”
Though the compact would greatly benefit students like Chelgren, educators are also concerned that state universities would take advantage of the compact by raising tuition prices, expecting the federal government to meet those prices on account of all students qualified for the New College Compact.
Concerns over this possibility could be countered with regulations restricting colleges from raising tuition prices, other than for slight inflationary changes.
However, the counteraction would once again pose another problem: state universities charge at different tuition rates. Tuition prices vary because state governments invest dissimilar amounts of money into higher education.
For example, North Carolina subsidizes higher education by approximately $3,000 more per-student than Pennsylvania, therefore ensuring North Carolina’s tuition costs nearly half as expensive as Pennsylvania’s.
Therefore, by subsidizing the current tuition prices at all state universities, Clinton’s New College Compact would reward states like Pennsylvania, who have subsidized higher education at investments under the national average, and shortchange states like North Carolina, who have invested well over the national average to offer affordable tuition prices.
Ultimately, Clinton intends to broaden the accessibility of higher education with her free-tuition proposal in the New College Compact; however, her proposals spark concerns regarding feasibility, private institutions and imbalanced subsidizes.
Clinton’s free college tuition proposal will be enacted if The New College Compact passes Congress, which could be impossible if blocked by Republicans.