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Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Colleges Don’t Want ‘Free College’ | Commentary - Independent Institute

Originally published in Forbes Mon. August 12, 2019. 

Several internet sites, especially The College Fix, have noticed something: most colleges are conspicuously silent about either the Warren or Sanders proposals for free college, says Richard K. Vedder, Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute, Distinguished Emeritus Professor of Economics at Ohio University.

Photo: courtesy of Stuart Miles at
This may seem odd, as most institutions of higher education and their national spokespersons (e.g, Terry Hartle of the American Council of Education) are not known to be shrinking violets. Why the reticence about commenting on something so fundamentally important to higher education?

There are several potential reasons. First, these are simply proposals of candidates for president, persons who may not be nominated, much less elected. Colleges should stay out of public policy brouhahas, so silence is the appropriate response. Saying something good, or bad, about, say, Bernie Sanders’s proposal might imply institutional support or opposition to his nomination, and universities should be neutral marketplaces of ideas, not proponents of positions, particularly since institutions of higher learning in reality are a melange of students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends of wildly varying political persuasions. I find it offensive when some university president signs, for example, a document supporting efforts to combat climate change in which he proclaims an institutional position.

However, there is a more fundamental and crass reason colleges are silent: free college is potentially a nightmare for schools. Most universities earn a large portion of their revenue from tuition fees, and “free college” implies ending those fees...

What to do? My guess is that individuals will support the Democratic Party nominee heavily in the 2020 campaign but largely remain silent on collegiate funding issues. After the election, if the Democrat wins, college presidents and lobbyists will endorse greater higher education funding of a traditional nature—large increases in Pell Grants, more liberalized student loan terms—but scuttle efforts for truly “free college.”
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Restoring the Promise
Higher Education in America

Source: Independent Institute