Washington Monthly - September/October 2016 - 78

it isn't radical enough. What we need instead is to rebuild the state-federal higher education partnership from the ground up. Rather than making college free for some students, we need to make it affordable for all. he first problem with Clinton's new plan is that states spend widely different amounts of money subsidizing college tuition. Higher education funding has also declined in many states, even as college spending has increased, causing schools to hike tuition to fill the gap. Clinton's plan would start by giving each state enough money to bring tuition down to zero for some. But that means the plan would actually reward states that have cut funding the most, and that have historically spent less on their higher education systems, by giving them larger amounts of money to fill the hole. In Wyoming, where higher education funding is a bigger priority, the state spends an average of $15,135 per student to subsidize tuition, enabling it to charge only $4,891 in tuition and fees. New Hampshire, on the other hand, spends far less of its own money-$2,904 per student-and puts t To make tuition free, Washington will have to give the largest amounts of money to states that have cut their higher ed funding the most. Members of Congress from states that have spent more on their colleges will immediately cry foul. more of the burden on students to pay for their education. That's why in-state tuition in New Hampshire costs $15,160. Under Clinton's plan, New Hampshire would receive a lot more money per student to make tuition free, because students pay more tuition. It's easy to anticipate the fallout-members of Congress from states like Wyoming will immediately cry foul. Over time, the Clinton plan would aim to even out funding per student among states, but then states like New Hampshire would be up in arms about having their grants reduced unless they raise taxes to make up the difference. Some might opt out entirely, much as some states have refused to expand Medicaid under Obamacare. Moreover, the plan only promises "free tuition." Much of the cost of college for low-income students doesn't come from tuition but from paying for food, housing, and books. 78 September/October 2016 While Clinton's plan would allow Pell Grants to be applied to these cost-of-living expenses, the grants would only fill part of the gap, leaving low-income students to fill the rest with long working hours, or debt. Indeed, many community colleges already offer free or very low tuition, even as elite public research universities have been aggressively increasing tuition. The University of Michigan, for example, charges in-state students $14,402 in tuition and fees. At Macomb Community College in Detroit, in-state students taking a full sixteen-credit course load pay only $6,040. The Clinton plan would provide more than double the benefit to students who already have the academic advantages of enrolling in the more well-funded flagship university. There is also a huge loophole in the Clinton plan's insistence that free college will apply only to "public" schools. There are no federal standards for what it means to be "public." That status is defined by states and states alone. Some, like Pennsylvania, have created a class of "state-related" universities, which include Penn State, the University of Pittsburgh, and Temple, that have wide latitude in how they operate. Were the Clinton plan to go into effect, state legislatures would be under immense pressure to grant "state-related" status to private colleges suddenly struggling to compete with "free." They would undoubtedly assent, greatly increasing the cost of the Clinton plan. The Clinton plan also fails to take on a key aspect of the federal financial aid system that makes the system so dysfunctional: that it is delivered as "vouchers" to individual students, in the form of Pell Grants, tax credits, and federally subsidized loans. Billions of dollars in largely unregulated vouchers have been snatched up by shady colleges that market to unsuspecting students, while financing an epic expansion of national student loan debt. These vouchers also reward schools that charge more for tuition. A school that charges more than the maximum Pell Grant award ($5,815 for the 2016-17 academic year) can keep the entire grant for itself, while a school that charges less would have to make the remaining amount available to the student to cover books, housing, and other expenses. The same is true for student loans-the bigger the tuition, the bigger the loan, and the bigger the benefit to the school. The Clinton plan leaves vouchers and loans in place. Vouchers also allow colleges to shift scholarships they might have given to needy students to wealthier students, who can do more for the college's prestige and bottom line. A recent report found that 94 percent of private colleges and almost 50 percent of public colleges now charge low-income students more than $10,000 a year. In 2010-11, only a third of public colleges charged low-income students that much. Colleges can do this because they know the federal government will ride to the rescue, providing extra aid to low-income students. Voucher money comes with few strings attached, one reason that nearly half of students who start college fail

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