This was predictable, and it certainly didn’t take long. Robert Duffett, president of Eastern University in suburban Philadelphia, wrote an interesting commentary in The Philadelphia Inquirer this week.
Discussing the Hillary Clinton “free college tuition” proposal for families making up to $85,000 this year, and expanding over the next five years to include those families making up to $125,000, Duffett thinks this is a great idea. His only one, tiny suggestion to make it even better is to expand it to private colleges and universities, rather than the way it is currently framed — applying only to tuition at public institutions of higher learning. Eastern University, as you might guess, is private and Duffett is contemplating the damage that the Clinton proposal would inflict on his school and others in the private sector.
Leaving aside for the moment his hilarious characterization of higher taxes as “tax benefit limitations,” President Duffett cites Eastern University graduation rates as exceeding national norms, and thus providing a benefit to all concerned. I looked at the published data, and he is correct. The Eastern University “reasonable graduation rate” (six years for a four-year program and three years for a two-year program; I’ll let others decide if this is indeed reasonable) is 62%, compared to a national average of 56%.
So, to put it in brutally simple terms, Clinton and Duffett and all of the other proponents of these tuition expansion programs expect the taxpayers to fund tuition for a huge number of college students — even though almost half of them never graduate, nationwide. In Eastern’s case, well over a third do not graduate — hardly a robust selling point.
Clinton’s proposal, if enacted as proposed, promises to create wreckage among the private colleges and universities. Politicians will not be able to resist the outcry from the private college presidents like Dr. Duffett, and will of course begin to expand the program to include them as well. Eastern and its peer colleges will gratefully accept the additional federal money, continue to graduate somewhere between 5 and 6 students out of every 10 that enroll, and let the taxpayers foot the bill for all of this tuition, so much of it wasted.
I would greatly prefer that Dr. Duffett and his fellow college presidents start thinking in the other direction — how to slim down their curricula, reduce non-instructional costs, and develop outstanding programs that consumers are actually willing to pay for. And to please, please stop expecting the taxpayers to come to the rescue.