Free Tuition as a Welfare Program

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Note the substantive difference between this plan and what Rhode Island’s Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo is proposing:

Gov. Charlie Baker and Mayor Martin J. Walsh have announced a tuition-free college program.

The Republican governor and the Democratic mayor on Monday launched the new college affordability program for Boston high school graduates, enabling low-income students to complete four-year degrees without paying tuition or mandatory fees.

Students first go to public community college, and then if they finish that degree in a timely manner, they can continue on to finish a four-year degree at a public four-year institution.  At least this program is more or less honest about being a public welfare program, and no doubt some students who otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunities will take advantage of the program to good effect.

That said, Governor Baker’s lamentation that the price of college sometimes “serves as a barrier” is poorly considered.  A price should server as a barrier, to ensure that potential students have consciously decided whether it’s worth the effort of surmounting it.

Our problem is that we’ve been hiding the size of the barrier while overstating the value of getting to the other side.  Taxpayer subsidies add bricks to the wall, and easy loans hide the real cost to students.  This has flooded the employment market with people who have degrees, devaluing them to the point of being little more than a cheap method for employers to screen applicants for jobs that don’t require anything like a bachelor’s degree.

We should address that problem, first, before providing related welfare programs.



  • Rhett Hardwick

    History might provide some lessons. 50 years ago, Massachusetts public universities were essentially free. Tuition was $100 per semester (if I understated correctly, this did not include dorm and other fees} Essentially, it was possible to “work” your way through college. I don’t believe this created an oversupply of degrees. So, there must have been some limiting factor.

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