by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Richard Vedder writes for the Martin Center about the popular political plea for “free” college.
[T]he overwhelming majority of students at most four-year colleges and universities come from relatively affluent families. There are 38 private schools, including a majority of the Ivy League, where more students come from the top one percent in the income distribution than the bottom 60 percent.
Even at the fairly typical state university where I teach, Ohio University, the median family income is over $90,000 annually—well above state and national norms. It is much higher still at prestigious state flagship schools—$135,100 at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and even higher ($155,500) at its rival to the north, the University of Virginia. …
… With that by way of background, I have been mystified by the efforts (primarily of liberal Democrats) to enact “free college” for at least a year or two at state-supported colleges. It seems to me at least possible that a large portion of the beneficiaries of such an effort will be relatively affluent middle-class individuals, especially at highly selective admission state flagship universities. …
… Proposals, such as Senator Bernie Sanders’, for free college open to students at four-year state universities are almost certainly likely to primarily benefit students from moderately affluent families. Moreover, many really low-income families already get the equivalent of free or very low-cost tuition anyway, through school need-based scholarships and federal Pell Grants. Politicians are using proposed relief from high tuition costs resulting from dysfunctional federal student loan programs to promote their own re-election rather than truly help the poor.
The good news is that there is a parallel, but little-publicized, “free college” movement underway. Private employers are increasingly paying the tuition of their employees. That doesn’t cost taxpayers anything.