Tuition-Free Colleges and Social Fragmentation
New York has passed legislation to enact free tuition to two and four year NY public colleges for in-state residents. As part of the deal, applicants must agree to stay in New York state for as long as they had been enrolled under the free tuition program. That is, if you receive four years of tuition-free schooling then you must remain in New York for four more years upon graduating. Out-of-state college applicants need only to live in New York for one year before they are considered a resident, and therefore eligible for the free tuition program. This comes on the heels of major progressive victories for California community colleges (almost half of them are now tuition free).
I’m predicting that these are the first dominos to fall, and that they will be followed shortly by the rest of the progressive northeast and northwest.
These are the long-term effects of such a scenario:
- Social fragmentation and migration will accelerate, not just from rural areas to cities as has been the case, but from states that don’t provide tuition-free college to states that do.
- Those states will presumably follow New York’s example by forcing applicants to stay in their state following their graduation, thereby guaranteeing steady growth of the state’s educated workforce.
- States that aren’t forward thinking enough to adopt free-tuition programs (deep south, rust belt, middle america) will find their economies further decimated by interstate migration and a sharp decline in educated workers.
Winners and Losers
Conservatives and republicans are typically repelled by the idea of free college tuition because they equate it with socialism, or with the liberal agenda. I personally don’t consider state-by-state tuition-free programs to be socialist in any way. I see it as a purely capitalist endeavor that will drive competition between state economies. That is, free-tuition (with the caveat that the students stays in the state after graduation) is a product. Inflated, overpriced tuition is also a product. They are competing products. States with smart legislatures will realize this and enact free-tuition programs in order to compete with the states that have already enacted such legislation. The states that refuse to enact tuition-free college programs will be the states whose leaders are morally opposed to what they perceive to be socialism. These states will mostly likely be the ones that are already suffering (deep south, middle america, rust belt, appalachia), and their resistance to these programs will only increase their suffering. The situation is comparable to that of marijuana legalization. Most red states have failed to pass any meaningful legislation paving the way towards legalization or even decriminalization due to their own misguided moral aversions to marijuana. Meanwhile, forward thinking blue states have reaped bewildering profits from an economy that they created themselves.
Fixing a Broken System
The biggest argument against free tuition sounds something like this: If students aren’t paying tuition, then colleges aren’t going to make enough money to continue operating. This is debunked pretty easily. Let’s start with the fact that most students don’t actually pay their tuition. Banks pay students tuition in the form of loans, and then, in most cases, students don’t pay their loans back. The system is massively flawed. New York and California are the first to offer a realistic solution, and will be summarily rewarded. Red states will continue to lag behind, and the people who are unlucky enough to be born there will suffer accordingly.