Should public universities be free? | The Tylt

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New York's free tuition plan covers the funding gap many middle class students face. Lower income students already receive free tuition and grants to help fund their studies. Under this new plan, middle class students will also receive help, removing an important barrier to higher education for thousands of students. 

Starting this fall, undergraduate students who attend a State University of New York or City University of New York school will be eligible for the Excelsior Scholarship if their families earn no more than $100,000 a year. The income cap will lift to $110,000 next year and will reach $125,000 in 2019.

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) made free public university a cornerstone of his campaign, because he recognized the importance of a college degree in the modern economy. The jobs that sustained the middle class are quickly disappearing. In order to fully participate in today's economy, workers need a bachelor's degree to simply get their foot in the door. 

In the 1950s and 1960s, it was possible to graduate from high school and move right into a decent-paying job with good benefits. Strong unions offered apprenticeships, and a large manufacturing sector provided opportunities for those without an advanced degree. A couple with a sole breadwinner could buy a home, raise a family and send their kids to college. That was the American dream. Unfortunately, today, for too many Americans, it’s not a possibility.

Tuition often prices out middle class people and forces them to take on huge loans to fund their education. Lower income students already receive help through grants and free tuition. Expanding this program to the middle class would ensure no one who has the ability to succeed in college is turned away for a lack of money.

An important pathway to the middle class now runs through higher education, but rising costs are making it harder and harder for ordinary Americans to get the education they want and need. In 1978, it was possible to earn enough money to pay for a year of college tuition just by working a summer job that paid minimum wage. Today, it would take a minimum wage worker an entire year to earn enough to cover the annual in-state tuition at a public university. And that’s why so many bright young people don’t go to college, don’t finish or graduate deeply in debt. With $1.3 trillion in student loans, Americans are carrying more student debt than credit card or auto-loan debt. That’s a tragedy for our young people and for our nation.
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Critics say free tuition does nothing to address structural problems in higher education. It's nice to say everyone should be able to go to school for free, but at the end of the daysomeone has to pay for it. Many believe they shouldn't have to foot the bill for someone else's college tuition. After all, it's still a choice. Those who choose to pursue higher education should be responsible enough to pay for it. 

Rather than spread scarce federal money across all students, policymakers should instead target those resources toward those who need it most and empower them to choose the option — public or private — that fits their needs. A valuable degree is worth the investment even if you have to pay something for it.

Tuition is an important source of revenue for universities. At a time when many public schools are strapped for resources, free tuition would encourage enrollment without properly funding it. This creates a higher tax bill for citizens, while failing to help universities pay for the necessary resources to help students succeed. The public appetite for funding higher education has shrunk in recent decades, and it's only getting worse. Critics say free tuition is not the answer to this problem. 

First, free college isn’t free, it simply shifts costs from students to taxpayers and caps tuition at zero. That tuition cap limits college spending to whatever the public is willing to invest. But it does not change the cost of college, or what institutions actually spend per student. If the past is any guide, that cost will continue to grow, and an influx of federal money may lead profligate administrators to spend even more. Enrollments will also increase, further multiplying the cost of free college.
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