The Anecdotes of a Problematic Tuition Program


Dropping out of college may have been the single best decision I ever made.  Out of high school, I was kind of aimless, with regard to what I wanted to study, was in an emotionally rough spot, and probably didn’t receive enough push-back against my unrealistic life plan.

Working and being back among friends who didn’t go to college provided some stability while giving me a clear view of what life would be like if I didn’t find some alternative.  Two years later, I returned to college much more focused and driven.

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I find more reason for concern than encouragement, therefore, reading Linda Borg’s article in the Providence Journal promoting the governor’s “free tuition” program.  Granted, these are self-reported anecdotes, but the profiles provided are these:

  • A girl who was “packed and ready to go to the University of Rhode Island” but now may attend the  Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI) instead.
  • A boy who had been considering Rhode Island College, but now might go to CCRI.
  • Two friends of that boy’s who weren’t going to college and now will.
  • A girl who had intended to take a year off and now will attend CCRI (because the program doesn’t allow for a year off).

Above all, these are lessons in government meddling.  We all live in our unique situations, making decisions based on different criteria and interests.  The prices of alternatives aren’t just barriers, but important signals to help us figure out what is in our best interest.

The first two anecdotes are students who seemed to be leaning toward more of a full college experience.  If money had been primary, they would have chosen CCRI even without its being free.  CCRI may very well not be the experience, or prove to have the offerings, they were looking for.  The second two anecdotes are students who had made a conscious decision not to jump right into college, but now they will, with no real promise that CCRI will help them give shape to their futures better than a year of working (or something else) might have.  None of the anecdotes are students who wanted to attend CCRI but were fearful of struggling to afford it.

Among the hundreds of young adults who will now attend CCRI because it’s free, maybe the experience will work out better than the alternative.  Or maybe it will work out worse.  Maybe it’ll be a wash.  But removing all consideration of price will increase, rather than decrease, the likelihood that bad decisions will be made.

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