Opinions

States Lead The Way In Education

While the prospect of “free college” was a point of tension for many in the 2016 election, it seems that states are charting a path ahead on the issue. Recently, states like New York have adopted programs that make public college more accessible by providing free tuition through scholarships.

In New York, the Excelsior Scholarship provides free public college with the stipulation that applicants maintain a passing GPA and agree to live and work the same amount of time they were in college in the state. This scholarship is available to all low and middle income households, capping out at incomes over $125,000. This plan is to get individuals debt-free quicker so they have more income to spend and invest after graduating. The stipulation that recipients must live in the state is an interesting one, and it remains to be seen exactly how that will work. The scholarship does not aff ect individuals who have already gone through or are in school, however.

California has followed suit, albeit in a more modest way. The California bill provides one year of free tuition at community colleges. The restriction to community colleges is much more rigid, but some might argue that is more prudent. In contrast to New York’s plan, the California bill is not capped by income. Additionally, San Francisco has opted for a more radical approach by raising taxes to pay for public college completely.

Tennessee, of all places, has made technical schools and community college free as well. Now, all of these programs do come with tax increases, and that has been a major criticism of these moves. On top of that, the plans are being slowly phased in, and while that has pleased the more fi scally conscious, it does leave many currently indebted students without any comparable support.

As a concept, publically funded college is a great idea. It gives people the tools they need to succeed, and without large price tags attached, it will become more accessible to them, and people who can aff ord it already will be debt-free years before they would normally, giving them the ability to spend money and help the economy grow. People saddled with debt don’t invest money, and that really slows things down. The ability to own homes earlier will help many young families as well.

Now, this doesn’t come without certain caveats. Any economic growth we would see would be more long term, which makes the immediate cost (higher taxes) less attractive. There is also the issue of every state having its own free programs that are separate from one another, not even to mention the ones that don’t have programs at all. If states continue to push forward without the federal government, states unwilling to follow would see a fl ight of valuable human capital. It also diminishes the attraction of places like Eastern. Private colleges would be even more avoided than they are now due to significantly cheaper options. Overall, I believe in widespread education aff ordability programs, but I think we need to be careful about how we go about doing so.

Sources: LAtimes, Washington Post

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