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‘Free tuition’: Illusion, not solution | TribLIVE.com
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‘Free tuition’: Illusion, not solution

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Brooklyn College students walk between classes on campus in New York. The New York state Legislature approved a budget that includes funding for Democrat Gov. Andrew Cuomo's plan to offer free tuition for middle-class students at state universities. (AP Photo)

Attractive as it is for students and parents, “free” in-state tuition won’t solve higher education’s ever-higher costs at New York’s public universities and community colleges — or at Pennsylvania’s cash-strapped state-owned universities.

“Free tuition” isn’t free. Somebody has to pay for it. New York’s new program, costing an estimated $163 million extra in its first year, relies in part on tax hikes on incomes of $1 million-plus to aid families making up to $100,000 (eventually $125,000). Bernie Sanders’ federal proposal relied on taxing financial transactions.

Like all higher-education subsidies, “free tuition” provides yet more cover for higher-education price hikes above inflation — but it’s taxpayers, not students and parents, footing those ever-higher bills. And when, if ever, does this new entitlement’s pain for taxpayers end?

New Yorkers’ “free tuition” comes at another price — their freedom. If graduates don’t stay in high-tax New York as long as the two or four years they were in school — and just imagine the headaches and costs of enforcing that ! — their “free tuition” becomes loans they have to repay. And because it creates more job-seeking grads but not more job openings, “free tuition,” as Trib columnist Ralph R. Reiland says, is a “formula for … higher unemployment and underemployment, and lower income growth.”

Simply put, “free tuition” merely shifts families’ college costs to taxpayers while doing nothing about higher ed’s runaway costs. It’s an illusion — not a solution.

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