In a press release, U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King quickly endorsed Cuomo's plan, noting that it is similar to President Obama's proposal for a free community-college education. "I applaud Governor Andrew Cuomo for his leadership in expanding the doors of opportunity for New Yorkers, particularly those who otherwise may not be able to afford [a college education]," King said.
Governor Cuomo's proposal is a sound idea, Hillary Clinton's proposal is a sound idea, and President Obama's proposal for a free community-college education is a sound idea as well. And, contrary to what critics have said about these plans, they are not financially irresponsible.
The federal government already spends $150 billion a year on student aid programs--Pell grants, student loans, work-study programs, etc. The states also spend billions on higher education every year. New York, for example, spends a $1 billion a year in tuition assistance for the state's students.
If all this money was dedicated toward offering a free college education at public colleges and universities, taxpayers might actually save money. But none of these plans will work if the federal and state governments continue to subsidize the for-profit college industry and private nonprofit colleges.
If Governor Cuomo's plan moves forward, you can expect to see for-profit and nonprofit colleges oppose it. Catharine Hill, president of Vassar College, came out against free college tuition in a New York Times op ed essay last year--back when Bernie Sanders was the only politician endorsing the idea. And New York's association of private colleges has already expressed skepticism about Governor Cuomo's free tuition plan.
The next six months will be a time of great turmoil for higher education. A number of for-profit colleges have closed or gone bankrupt, and many more are hanging on by their fingernails, hoping the Trump administration treats them more kindly than the Obama administration did during its waning days. Several nonprofit liberal arts colleges have closed as well and more are on the brink of closing.
If the for-profit college industry collapses and the nonprofit college sector shrinks dramatically, then proposals to offer a free college education at public colleges might actually work. But they will not work if federal and state governments continue to prop up the nonpublic college sector with public money.
|Bernie & Andrew Cuomo support free college education at public institutions|
(photo credit, Sam Hodgson, New York Times)
Catharine Hill. Free Tuition Is Not the Answer. New York Times, November 30, 2015, p. A23.
Jesse McKinley. Cuomo Proposes Free Tuition at New York State Colleges for Eligible Students. New York Times, January 3, 2017.
Rick Seltzer. Free Tuition Idea Revived. Inside Higher Ed, January 4, 2017.
U.S. Department of Education Press Release. U.S. Education Secretary John B. King Jr.'s statement on New York Gove. Andrew Cuomo's free college tuition proposal. U.S. Department of Education, January 3, 2017.