This article is part of a series from YAF’s Center for Entrepreneurship & Free Enterprise
The idea of “free college”—or taxpayer-funded tuition—has experienced new resurgence among young people in recent months.
This idea, if implemented, would destroy students’ freedom to choose, unless they come from a wealthy background.
Simply put, the Left’s justification for “free college”—educational equality—is a ruse.
One can expect that as soon as a “free college” program is implemented, as many students as possible will seek to enroll.
In the concept of “free college,” the government would likely distribute a set amount of taxpayer funding to a capped number of students, or the program would take all students who qualify and divide the funding equally among them.
The first scenario would limit access to the very education that “free college” advocates desire.
Take Britain as an example. Britain had a free tuition program for nearly two decades, before reversing course. The program caused a strain on enrollment, which ballooned by over one million students in three decades.
The amount of funding allocated for this program could not keep up with the student population growth, so enrollment caps were set in place. Instead of lessening inequality, Britain’s enrollment caps only increased the education gap between the top 20 percent of students—based on their economic background—and the rest of the population.
In the second scenario, there would be reduced funding for each student, despite there still being access to education. If many students qualify for a set pool of funding, those funds would have to be spread equally among all of the qualifying students. The government, instead of implementing an enrollment cap, would have to find the least expensive way to provide qualifying students an education. This would only reduce students’ college options.
Both scenarios above would reduce the quality of education and result in two divergent education experiences: a low-quality education funded and steered by the government, and a higher-quality education received by those able to make personal choices regarding their academic career. Students from lower-income backgrounds would be forced to deal with a government system in which they do not get to choose where they earn their degree, while the better-off would be able to attend a college of their choice.
That is not equality, which proponents of these programs claim to be seeking.
Arguments for “free college” stem from an idealistic place: a desire to achieve perfect equity. However, evidence suggests that such a taxpayer-funded program would not provide equality. It shows that the opposite would happen as academic freedom is impeded.
We should learn from Britain’s mistake and focus on teaching young people about the incredible opportunities they have while inspiring them to take personal responsibility and pursue their goals without overreaching, clumsy government intervention.
Abby Streu is the chairman of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Young Americans for Freedom chapter and a member of the Young Americans for Freedom Board of Governors.