December 9, 2016

Free public college could hurt Webster

A proposal for nation-wide free public college and university education could affect private universities like Webster when it comes to enrollment.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders has proposed free tuition for four-year public colleges and universities as part of the College for All Act. The proposal would direct the Department of Education to provide $47 billion per year to states to eliminate tuition and required fees at public colleges and universities.

NPR writers Anya Kamenetz and Eric Westervelt wrote that the act’s critics say it is an unrealistic proposal and lacking a detailed explanation on how it will actually be done.

According to sanders.senate.gov, today’s total tuition at public colleges and universities amounts to about $70 billion per year. With the College for All Act, the federal government would pay for 67 percent of this cost while the states would be responsible for the remaining 33 percent.

Freshman Katie Dineen said she thinks the College for All Act is a great idea that will help a wide range of students and decrease the amount of student debt, making higher education more accessible.

“Even though it won’t apply to private universities like Webster, it’ll still help students in the community be able to attend public colleges for free,” Dineen said.

Research fellow with the Center on Higher Education Reform (CHER) at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), Kevin James, wrote in an article for US News & World Report that private institutions of higher education would likely struggle to survive if the bill was enacted. The reason being that they would be competing with a highly-subsidized, free public option.

Dineen said tuition-free universities might cause high school students to only consider free colleges instead of private universities.

“I think it will definitely cause the student population of private universities to decrease overall,” Dineen said. “Private universities will still survive, just with a smaller demographic.”

Junior Lara Hamdan said she thinks the proposal might cause less students to come to Webster.

Hamdan said she thinks some students would not want to go to a state university if all were tuition-free because they might feel the education would be the same across the board.

“In a sense, there might be a feeling that there won’t be anything distinct or unique about those state universities, so some students would still choose a private liberal arts college to get a unique education,” Hamdan said.

James wrote in his article that in addition to reducing higher education options, the proposal would significantly reduce pressure on public institutions to serve students effectively.

For senior DeVon Haynes, even if the College for All Act was passed, it would be about what a university has to offer him academically more than financially.

“I would appreciate having a free option if it ever came to a point when I couldn’t afford Webster,” Haynes said.

According to an article for the New York Times written by Andrew Kelley, director of the CHER at the AEI, public college and university enrollments would increase if the College for All Act passed.

Kelley writes in his article, “rather than spread scarce federal money across all students, policy makers 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.”

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