How Clinton’s Free College Tuition Plan Will Hurt Millennials

Justin  Haskins
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Posted: Sep 01, 2016 12:01 AM
How Clinton’s Free College Tuition Plan Will Hurt Millennials

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is doubling-down on her plan to socialize higher education as a way to help lower- and middle-income Americans, and she says her proposals will help Millennials improve their economic outlook.

These promises couldn’t be further from the truth, which is her plan would actually leave many young people worse off than ever and would greatly hinder their ability to compete with others in the job marketplace over the next decade.

Clinton, citing the growing student lending debt crisis, has promised to institute several reforms to the current student loan market, if elected. Perhaps the most significant is her proposal to create a debt-free public education system. According to Clinton’s campaign website, “By 2021, families with income up to $125,000 will pay no tuition at in-state four-year public colleges and universities. And from the beginning, every student from a family making $85,000 a year or less will be able to go to an in-state four-year public college or university without paying tuition.”

Clinton also promises to give $25 billion to “support historically black colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions, and other minority-serving institutions,” and she wants to make all community colleges across the country tuition-free.

Many have argued these policies, which amount to nothing less than a near-total takeover of U.S. higher education, will provide significant aid to Millennials, who have been burdened with skyrocketing tuition costs and college debt for more than a decade. Currently, 43 million Americans owe about $1.3 trillion in student loan debt, and the average graduate today owes $37,172, which does not include the debt held by parents.

On the surface, these proposals seem to be a massive giveaway to young Americans, but before Millennial voters buy into Clinton’s free-college bonanza, they should remember Clinton’s plan is focused on helping those just entering college, not those who are already in college and especially not those who have just graduated. Instead of being aided by these policies, Millennials already carrying debt will be at a massive disadvantage compared to current high school students.

If millions of current high school students are able to attend public colleges for absolutely nothing, they’ll have virtually no debt by the time they leave college and enter the workforce, which means they’ll be able to work for a much lower wage than those who already have debt now. Why would an employer rather hire a young person with mountains of debt when it could hire someone dealing with far less financial pressure, and thus less of a need to demand a greater salary?

Further, Clinton’s plan will cost hundreds of billions of dollars, at the very least, and those Millennials already in the workforce will almost certainly have to carry a portion of the tax burden—all to help pay the college expenses of students who they will soon have to compete against in the labor marketplace.

Clinton does also promise some reforms that are aimed at helping people who are already carrying student loan debt. For instance, borrowers would be allowed to refinance their loans at current rates—which only helps if rates remain at historically low levels; delinquent borrowers and those who have defaulted on their loans “will get help”—whatever that means; and “entrepreneurs will be able to defer their loans with no payments or interest for up to three years.”

While these proposals, as well as several other similar policies Clinton is offering, could arguably provide some benefits, they ultimately amount to a tiny drop in the bucket compared to the advantages being given to those who haven’t entered college yet, and they do nothing to help offset the disadvantages so many Millennials will face when competing for jobs against students graduating with no debt.

Clinton spends a great deal of time talking about the need to impose what she perceives to be equality and fairness on the U.S. economy, but what is “fair” or “equal” about giving some students a gigantic economic advantage over those who have already paid tens of thousands of dollars—or will soon—toward their college education?