June 26, 2019 | 75° F

MACLANE: N.Y.’s ‘free tuition’ may have loopholes

Opinions Column: Conservative Hot Corner

Last semester, I wrote a column related to the growing student loan crisis in America. I essentially proposed to privatize loans to incentivize colleges to lower tuition rates since the guarantee of payment from the government in the event of a default would dissipate. New York has gone forward with attacking this student loan crisis by making New York's public colleges tuition free. Although this sounds like a good idea in principle, there are many problems with this policy.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2018 budget features “the nation's first accessible college program — The Excelsior Scholarship.” The Excelsior Scholarship would make state colleges —the State University of New York and City University of New York — tuition-free for New Yorkers making under $100,000 a year in the Fall of 2017: this income cap would be increased to $125,000 in the Fall of 2019. Cuomo says that this will help about 940,000 incoming students.

This proposal has many problems, including the increased burden on New York taxpayers. This plan will cost an estimated $163 million in the first year alone. Entitlements only increase over time as well. so this estimated cost will only increase as it becomes more embedded into New York. New York also already has the highest tax burden in the country at 12.94 percent, an entire percent and a half higher than the second state, Hawaii. Having to shoulder the cost of college tuition will only increase the already-too-high tax burden that New Yorkers bear.

Increasing federal subsidies to universities historically has proven those universities just absorb the money without controlling tuition rates. According to The New York Times, a 2015 Federal Reserve study found that “colleges pocketed up to 60 cents from every $1 increase in subsidies, either by increasing tuition or by cutting their own aid packages.” The New York budget will allow for tuition increases of only $200 over the next three years — and this will obviously be utilized. This tuition-free plan will increase the demand of these state colleges and it does not cover fees or room and board. With colleges receiving compensation for tuition from the government, they can easily raise tuition on students who make over the income cap and increase the fees and costs of room and board. Does this really reduce student debt significantly?

With the increase in demand, classroom rationing is also bound to happen. Liberals often point to Germany as a great example of the success of universal free college. According to Samuel Goldman, an assistant professor at George Washington University, in Germany, “Classes are generally large lectures at which attendance is strictly optional. Graduation is based on rigorous exams rather than modular coursework. And students choose their subjects of concentration prior to enrollment, and switching is not easy.” The smaller class sizes that are essential to a student’s success are not as prevalent due to the high demand for college in Germany.

There is also another catch to the New York tuition-free plan — receivers of the Excelsior Scholarship must work in the state for the same number of years that they use the scholarship. While in principle this seems like a good idea — New Yorkers funding the next generation of workers who in theory can help become future taxpayers — it limits the job prospects of current students. Students may need to accept underemployment that can damage their future career in order to fully utilize the scholarship. Students do have the option of working out of state, however, the scholarship will then turn into a loan. So their choices are limited, either take a typical loan or possibly accept underemployment to take advantage of the scholarship.

The increased demand in SUNY and CUNY would also come at the expense of smaller private institutions. Private institutions would not be able to compete with the public institutions and would either be forced to significantly cut back on their education standards to cut costs or eventually close their doors. The increase in demand would also flood the marketplace with more people with college degrees decreasing the value of a college degree. This decrease in value will require students to go to graduate school to distinguish themselves and just plunge them deep into depth regardless of having free undergraduate tuition.

Cuomo’s plan is admirable but short sighted. The issue of massive college debt needs to be addressed through incentivizing colleges to lower their costs rather than subsidizing their costs. Subsidizing their costs will just burden the taxpayers and decrease the quality of education provided to the next generation of college graduates.

Daniel MacLane is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in political science. His column, "Conservative Hot Corner," runs on alternate Wednesdays.

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Daniel MacLane

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