The Corner

Zombie ‘Free College’ Idea Lives On

Last year’s campaign featured demands for “free college” from Hillary and Bernie. They lost, but this terrible idea lives on. Recently, the governors of New York and Rhode Island put forth plans for free college for residents who enroll in state colleges and universities.

Perhaps this will help them get reelected. Promising “free” stuff is one of the tried and true methods of winning. The supposed benefits are visible and concentrated while the costs are dispersed and hidden in the budget. Nevertheless, offering free college is a lousy idea, as I explain in my latest Martin Center article.

For one thing, it’s going to have a huge negative impact on private colleges and universities in those states, unless they manage to lobby successfully to be included.

The strongest reason to oppose free college, however, is that it undermines the incentive to strive for the education you want. Free (and heavily subsidized) education lowers the student’s commitment to learn. Free college will mean producing more college degrees, but it will also mean more college grads who had merely sailed through with the minimum of effort. We have lots of that now and these plans will increase the number of people who have college credentials but the knowledge and skills of high schoolers.

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.