Can We Stop Pretending that “Free” Community College is Free?

college financial aid

To paraphrase free market economist Milton Friedman, “there is no such thing as a free college plan.” In fact, the latest free college plan is estimated to cost $90 billion. Which raises the question, who is going to pay for it?

Spoiler alert: It won’t be the student, and it won’t be the school either.

Reason reports:

This week a couple of legislators and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan released the draft legislation of the proposed “free community college” plan Barack Obama introduced in January. Probably the most important detail is that the federal government itself now estimates the cost of providing a “free” community college education jumping from $60 billion to $90 billion.

… For those who missed the whole thing, here are the basics: President Barack Obama and several leading Democrats want to make community college free for students who would then transfer to four-year colleges for bachelor’s degrees and for those who are in training programs for occupations that the state determines to be part of an “in-demand industry sector.” The federal government will pay two-thirds of the cost, but states will have to chip in one-third to participate.

… None of these plans seem to seriously deal with the fact that its government subsidies to education that have driven up these costs. That massive debt middle class students are racking up isn’t paying for instructors. It’s paying for boatloads after boatloads of administrators making plum salaries for managing these reform programs that the government insists will make colleges better. The government isn’t making college cheaper. It’s making it even more expensive.

Continuous government subsidies for higher education sends all the wrong signals to colleges and universities around the country. Those schools know that whatever they decide to charge students, the government will meet their demands with no preconditions. “Free” college is getting more expensive every year, and it’s us taxpayers who are stuck footing the bill.