Free College in America Is a Bad Idea. Just Look at Europe. (2023)

Even fans of student debt relief will admit it doesn't solve the core problem of crushing higher education costs. For that, debt-forgiveness proponents such as Bernie Sanders and education economist Sue Dynarski have a long-term solution: free college.

They have a point. If we're going to burden the tax base to pay for the nation's college students through debt forgiveness, we might as well be more upfront about it. Just be prepared for the result. Free college will not only worsen the quality of American universities, currently the best in the world, and mean fewer resources for students, it would also be more regressive and would deepen inequality compared with a system where students pay or take out debt.


Why free college is not a good idea? ›

Yet free college undermines quality because it means less spending per student and doesn't necessarily lead to higher completion rates . Free college at public universities risks further entrenching inequality by worsening what is already a two-tier system in US higher education.

Are Americans moving to Europe for free college degrees? ›

There are at least 44 schools across Europe where Americans can earn their bachelor's degree for free, according to Jennifer Viemont, the founder of an advising service called Beyond The States. All public colleges in Germany, Iceland, Norway and Finland are free for residents and international students.

What would happen if college was free in the US? ›

Free college tuition programs have proved effective in helping mitigate the system's current inequities by increasing college enrollment, lowering dependence on student loan debt and improving completion rates, especially among students of color and lower-income students who are often the first in their family to ...

What are 3 reasons college should not be free? ›

Why College Should Not Be Free – 6 Reasons
  • 1 The Politics of Higher Education.
  • 2 Issues With Graduated Students.
  • 3 There Is Already Plenty Of Help Available.
  • 4 Choice Would Be Limited.
  • 5 More Government Control.
  • 6 Negative Effects From The Public.
  • 7 Not Everybody Wants To Go To College.

How much would taxes increase if college was free? ›

Over an 11-year time frame, a First-Dollar Tuition-Free program would cost a total of $800 billion. The cheapest free college program, the Last-Dollar Tuition-Free program would cost $28 billion the year it is implemented. Free college would cost on average three times what federal tax dollars pay for now.

How would free college hurt the economy? ›

Lower prices do nothing to help overcrowded and underfunded public institutions. A major concern is that states lowering tuition to zero will balance their budgets by cutting spending. Research suggests that this would lower graduation rates, making the completion problem worse.


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