As the saying goes, if it sounds too good to be true – it probably is. That is the case with Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren’s proposal for free tuition for all and cancellation of student loan debt. It sounds good. It’s a nice campaign promise.
But it doesn’t really pan out in reality.
Her campaign website states that experts estimate the debt cancellation plan creates a one-time cost to the government of $640 billion. The Universal Free College program brings the total cost of the program to roughly $1.25 trillion over 10 years.
But don’t worry. Warren, a U.S. senator from Massachusetts, said the entire cost of her broad debt cancellation plan and universal free college is more than covered by her ultra-millionaire tax — a 2% annual tax on the 75,000 families with $50 million or more in wealth.
But it’s that same tax she is also planning to use to pay for free childcare for anyone who makes less than 200% of the federal poverty rate, among other wish list items.
In her online campaign literature Warren shares her story of how she dropped out of college at 19 to get married. But then she went back to school at a community college that was $50 per semester.
While it’s true that $50 per semester colleges don’t exist anymore, there still are some affordable options. Technical colleges have continued to keep tuition low and Gateway even has its own free tuition program for eligible students called the Gateway Promise.
Government should continue to work with officials in higher education to keep college affordable, such as capping tuition as officials have done in Wisconsin.
When you read deeper into Warren’s plan she said, “The federal government will partner with states to split the costs of tuition and fees and ensure that states maintain their current level of funding on need-based financial aid and academic instruction.”
Based on that statement it sounds as though free tuition for all could come at a high cost for states and that is not good for taxpayers who will have to pick up the tab.
Student debt is hurting many Americans, preventing them from buying a home or other big purchases.
It’s natural to want to help, but Warren’s proposal goes too far.
Just over the last decade the narrative about higher education has greatly evolved. The message used to be that students must get a four-year degree to succeed. Now parents and educators alike recognize that there is not a one-size-fits-all answer for all kids. For some a four-year-degree is the answer. But for others, their best option may be going into a trade or going to a technical college. There is wider understanding that just going to a university and getting a degree without a clear path in mind is not the answer.
If college is free and loans are forgiven then there is not as much of an incentive to decide on a path towards a career.
Officials need to continue to work on solutions to help reduce college debt.
But Warren’s idea is not a feasible solution.