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Hillary Clinton speaks during an event, which was part of her "Breaking Down Barriers" tour, at Jackie O's Production Brewery and Taproom on Tuesday, May 3, 2016. 

Clinton's free tuition plan might benefit public colleges but hurt taxpayers

Hillary Clinton wants to make college tuition free for 80 percent of American families, but some critics say it would do more harm than good.

The plan, which was introduced in July, would make in-state public colleges and universities tuition-free for families earning an annual income under $125,000. Andy Price, the spokesman for the Ohio University College Democrats, said the plan attempts to combat student debt by investing more taxpayer dollars into public universities.

“Having decreased student debt will help our population, our generation, reaffirm itself economically in the long-term,” Price said. “It’ll enable us to raise more capital, start businesses in the future (and) continue to live the American Dream.”

However, Richard Vedder, a distinguished professor of economics at OU, said while the plan is feasible, it is “ill-advised” due to the economic strain it could put on taxpayers.

“When you offer someone something free, someone is paying the price,” Vedder said. “That someone is the taxpayer in this case, and that price is substantial.”

Because $125,000 is the annual income of a “moderately prosperous” family, Clinton’s plan would not increase college participation for those students who would have been able to attend college regardless of the price of in-state tuition, Vedder said.

“It’s a redistributionist scheme,” Vedder said. “It’s rob the rich to help the poor, but in this case, it’s not really poor — it’s fairly affluent middle-class people."

Clinton's plan has drawn similar criticism from others, according to a Washington Post report. Neal McCluskey, director of the right-leaning Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom, also argued the plan would cover too many people who could pay for college on their own, and would exacerbate overcrowding in colleges.

Sara Goldrick-Rab, a professor of higher education and sociology at Temple University, told the Washington Post that using a family's income as an indicator for tuition support fails to fully take into account other factors that might make a student require financial aid. 

Price said the College Democrats, however, support the plan.

“We think it’s great that presidential candidates are showing leadership on this,” he said. “This is going to help a lot of our members, both those who have to struggle and work hard to make sure they can go to OU, and those who have good scholarships but are constantly afraid they’re going to lose it thanks to a government undercut.”

Vedder said the plan would likely have a "mildly positive" effect on OU, but would also have a negative effect on private universities, which would not experience any change in their tuition rates.

“It would increase the number of kids wanting to go to OU a little bit, which from OU’s point of view would probably be viewed positively,” he said.

Zhoie Curtis, a junior studying psychology and pre-physical therapy, said the plan would benefit her. 

“A lot of people aren’t able to go to school because their parents can’t help them, and if they had bad credit you can’t take out loans,” Curtis said. “I can’t take out loans because I don’t have credit, so I have to work during school.”

Vedder said increased enrollment at colleges and universities isn't always a good thing.

“I think there are too many kids going to college already,” Vedder said. “Forty percent don’t graduate within six years … so we have too many kids going to college ... and taking jobs at Starbucks, or working at Wal-Mart or Home Depot. We’re not getting a lot of return on our investment and many of the kids are now in debt."

Republican nominee Donald Trump has not officially introduced a higher education plan. However, in a report from Inside Higher Ed Sam Clovis, Trump's policy director, said the candidate would institute a policy allowing colleges to base student loans on how much a student would be projected to make in their chosen career path. A college could deny students loans if they were considered unlikely to be able to pay them back in the future.

Trump would also change the college loan system to lessen the government's role in loan-lending, instead reserving that role exclusively for private banks, according to the report.

The College Democrats back candidates who are in favor of decreased college tuition and combating the prevalence of student debt, Price said.

“We know Hillary Clinton is going to be an active defender for both our rights as students and will help to make sure that our interests are being portrayed into the White House,” he said.


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