The cost of college education in America has been a contentious issue throughout the presidential primaries.
Undeniably, America wants to be the world’s most highly educated workforce. However, to make this possible, a lot of steps have to be taken. Much needs to be done to break down barriers to higher education. One option is the free education sponsored by the government.
However, Social Democrat Bernie Sanders’ advocacy to fully subsidize public college tuition fees has undergone vast scrutiny. Brookings Institute in their recently published findings claims, that the proposed subsidies may actually bring greater relief to the wealthy rather than its target beneficiaries.
What The Study Finds
The cost of public college fees differs greatly. Wealthier students are more likely to attend more expensive institutions. Sanders’ proposals mean more savings for the wealthy students. Thus, this is due to the raft complexity of socioeconomic factors.
To note, if the government will subsidize the more able students who at first can afford to attend at expensive educational institutions, their wealth will be at steady.
By The Numbers
- Students occupying the top half of wealth distribution stand to save $16.8 billion in tuition fees.
- Students occupying the lower half of wealth distribution stand to save $13.5 billion in tuition fees.
- The difference between both sectors totals $3.3 billion or 24% in favor of the affluent.
- Tuition subsidies won’t cover the remaining $17.8 billion in additional costs (To be addressed in further detail below).
In light of the projected numbers, Sanders’ proposal has been criticized as needlessly providing funds to those who are not desperately in need. Also, due to existing grants for those in need, the elimination of tuition fees will not make as much impact as it is expected.
Tuition Not the Only Expense
As mentioned earlier, tuition fees are only one consideration to be accounted for by prospective college attendees. In addition, students must also consider the living costs associated with a full-time study. Often, the living costs prove to be a stumbling block to higher education.
If these secondary costs are not addressed properly, fully subsidized tuition will make little difference to those who face difficulty in accounting for accommodation, books, and transport.
Other factors not addressed by the elimination of fees include:
- Academic support for those new to the college environment (such as bridging programs and essay tuition)
- Social support
- Health and well-being programs
If indeed these barriers are not sufficiently overcome, it is likely that Sander’s proposal as it stands would end up favoring the wealthy.
For those who are not affected by the non-tuition costs of college, the elimination of fees is a huge advantage. It is of no benefit to those who remain unable to attend due to extraneous factors.
A Different Approach?
Hilary Clinton’s strategy, on the other hand, seems to address the issues in Sanders’ approach. She has suggested that a better strategy would be one which factors in the financial situation of students’ families. Those who could afford tuition fees without significant hardship would be required to pay.
Clinton’s criticism centers on the fact that Sanders’ policy could see students such as Donald Trump’s children receiving free tuition. Clinton regards such a possibility as hugely wasteful.
Under Clinton’s proposal, the money saved by cutting subsidies from the wealthy could be funneled back into funding non-tuition costs for the less wealthy.
Limitations of the Brookings Report
It is not possible to foresee how enrollment numbers may change after the implementation of Sanders’ policy. It is likely that enrollment in public colleges by lower income students would increase. This, in turn, may lead to an increase in the overall savings made by this sector.
If this were the case, the difference between savings made by upper and lower income students could diminish.
Conversely, it is possible that public tuition would become more attractive to those currently attending private schools, thereby increasing competition for enrollment. This could adversely affect the chances of the less wealthy gaining a spot at their college of choice.
Sanders continues to argue that the trade-off is worth it in the long run. He has admitted that wealthy students would also benefit from his plans.
Sanders claims that the benefit to wealthy students would not be as great as has been made out. His justification being that he plans to impose higher taxes on particular income brackets.
One further assertion made by Sanders is that although the existing tuition grants may become redundant, this means the funding could be redirected to cover secondary costs (such as books and transport).
Each of these claims has been questioned by higher-education policy analysts.
It has been suggested that even income taxes for the wealthy and redirection of existing tuition grants won’t be enough to account for the massive cost of making tuition and other educational fees free for all.