As is typical, Kevin Williamson is worth reading on the practical economics of government policy:
We are a very, very rich country. We can afford all sorts of things: food for the hungry, health care for the indigent, education for children, and hearing aids for families that for whatever reason cannot manage to scrape together $1,000 a year to invest in the well-being of their own children. (Those $5,000 hearing aids last for about five years, meaning that their real cost over time is less than the $1,200 a year typical American family spends on cable television.) I myself am all for doing many of those things, though I do not think that government very often is the best instrument for getting them done. But if we are going to use government, then, by all means, let’s use government in the most honest, transparent, and straightforward way we can. Forget the insurance mandate and just write the check.
In that regard, Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s free tuition would be preferable to some other policy that tried to force somebody else to pay for it — homeowners insurance or something like that. Of course, other basic economic lessons come into play, which struck me when WPRI’s Dan McGowan tweeted:
“Affordability” is a measure of price against value. Following Williamson’s price estimate for hearing aids, in-state tuition at the Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI) is less than the average family cable bill. Rhode Island College (RIC) and the University of Rhode Island (URI) are substantially more, but both saving and borrowing spread out the payments.
Considering that the average monthly student loan payment for all years of all colleges is somewhere around $280, two years of in-state tuition in Rhode Island would be much less. That means young adults are valuing a large number of other things — cable, cell phones, video games, weekly dinners out, and so on — more than they’re valuing education.
Pushing the price down for them doesn’t make them value the education any more. What it will do, though, drive up tuition and hurt taxpayers.