The Leaflet – Free College Tuition Debated Around the Nation

Published November 19, 2015


Free College Tuition Debated Around the Nation 

College campuses across the nation are debating a wide range of issues, from free speech to academic integrity. Following the Democratic debate in Iowa and recent university protests, free college tuition has emerged as a popular topic. According to a recent article published in Reuters by Curtis Skinner and award-winning independent journalist Valerie Vande Panne, protestors participating in the Million Student March on November 12 were demanding free tuition, as well as total student loan debt forgiveness and a higher minimum wage for student workers. The Million Student March website states, “Education should be free. The United States is the richest country in the world, yet students have to take on crippling debt in order to get a college education.”

Richard Vedder, director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, argues in his book Going Broke by Degree: Why College Costs Too Much federal student aid is creating a bubble that allows colleges and universities to raise prices indefinitely. He argues one way to stop the cycle is to cut off public funding. “Ending government subsidies to higher education and removing tax breaks for third-party subsidization would more directly align the costs of higher education to the benefits of those who attend,” wrote Vedder.

A lack of checks and balances is only one of the many problems. Skyrocketing college costs are inherently regressive, hurting the most vulnerable. As Vedder stated in a recent article forNational Review, “The primary goal of the federal student-aid programs was to improve access to college for lower-income persons. Here, the record is one of total failure: A smaller percentage of recent college graduates come from the bottom quartile of the income distribution today than was the case in 1970, when federal student-assistance programs were in their infancy.”

According to The Heartland Institute’s Ten Principles of Higher Education Reform the cost of obtaining a four-year degree has more than doubled since 1975 in inflation-adjusted dollars. “The effort to have everyone obtain a college degree has led to many workers becoming over-trained for the low-skill jobs they take after graduation. … Students are burdened with excessive debt from college training, sometimes larger than can be sustained on their modest post-college incomes.”

In order to reverse these trends, publicly funded higher education systems should be restructured to provide a better education to Americans at a lower cost in the following ways: funding students, not institutions; measuring institutional success by student performance; reducing barriers to entry; and by encouraging accreditation reform.

As a reminder, The Heartland Institute will be hosting its Emerging Issues Forum – South on December 8–9 in Nashville, Tennessee. You can register for the event here!

Budget & Tax
Research & Commentary: New Jersey Gasoline and Estate Tax Reform
New Jersey’s roads and bridges are in dire need of repair, and the funds to cover maintenance are beginning to run dry. In 2013, 66 percent of New Jersey’s roads were in poor or mediocre condition, and 36 percent of the state’s bridges were structurally deficient or obsolete, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. The Reason Foundation found New Jersey’s highway system to be the nation’s most expensive to operate and maintain, ranking it the 48th least cost-effective in the country. Over the past few years, the New Jersey Legislature has considered increasing the state’s 14.5 cent gas tax, which has remained unchanged since 1988 and is the second-lowest in the nation, to cover the costs associated with repairing roads and bridges. The most recent debate over transportation funding is over a tax swap proposal that would increase the state gasoline tax while eliminating or reducing estate and inheritance levies.

In this Research & Commentary published by The Heartland Institute, Senior Policy Analyst Matthew Glans warns legislators that connecting these two taxes is a mistake given the significant differences between the two taxes. Estate taxes should be lowered or eliminated, and gas tax revenues should be devoted entirely to road and bridge construction and maintenance. Read more

Research & Commentary: East St. Louis Teacher Strike
More than 6,000 students in East St. Louis, Illinois were forced out of the classroom for the entire month of October by a protracted strike by the East St. Louis Federation of Teachers. Public school students missed 21 days of school as a result. The average teacher’s salary in the district is $65,298, slightly higher than the statewide average. Meanwhile, fewer than 20 percent of district students tested proficient in math or reading on the Prairie State Achievement Exam (PSAE) and the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT), and only 5 percent of district high school seniors were deemed to achieve college readiness on the ACT. In this Research & Commentary, Policy Analyst Timothy Benson writes, “Illinois should ensure the children of East St. Louis have other educational options available to them by allowing education money to follow the child to the school of their parents’ choice and that a system of charters should be set up in the city as quickly as possible to make sure that these children have an alternative to their failing district schools and will never be forced to spend an entire month of the school year locked out of their classrooms.” Read more

Energy & Environment 
Bill Nye, the Anti-Science Guy, Demeans Science – Hopes to Silence Climate ‘Deniers’
H. Sterling Burnett, research fellow at The Heartland Institute, argues in this article that while Bill Nye “The Science Guy” wishes to remove climate “deniers” from the scientific discourse, he himself is the real denier. Nye, Burnett writes, “denies the simple fact credible, peer-reviewed, published, award-winning climate researchers are producing evidence every day calling into question the extent of humankind’s role in climate change. … Nye is one of those who tries to insert the idea of consensus – a political term having no legitimate place in the process of scientific exploration and discovery – into science in order to silence those who disagree with him and to suppress the facts that disprove his ill-informed claims. Even worse, he ignores there is no consensus on the issue, even if consensus mattered in science.” Read more

Health Care 
Research & Commentary: SNAP Asset Testing
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as the food stamp system, has become one of the fastest-growing welfare programs. SNAP is the fourth-largest means-tested program for low-income families and individuals. It is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the benefits are distributed by individual states.

Welfare reform should focus on encouraging able-bodied recipients who are enrolled in these programs to become more self-sufficient and less dependent on government aid. Asset tests are one tool states can use to ensure all food stamp dollars are used only by those families truly in need. Currently, 14 states require an asset test to receive food stamps. In this Research & Commentary, Senior Policy Analyst Matthew Glans argues asset tests are an important tool that’s used to ensure individuals spend their own resources before turning to taxpayers for support and to prevent abuse by those who do not truly need the help. Establishing an asset test with a reasonable threshold allows room for savings while making sure those who truly need SNAP benefits receive them. Read more

Removing Barriers to Broadband Deployment
One of the more important hearings for the future of broadband took place in the past week in the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee (ECC). ECC gathered to discuss “Breaking Down Barriers to Broadband Infrastructure Deployment.” Bartlett Cleland, a research fellow with the Institute for Policy Innovation, discusses the events of this meeting in The Heartlander and argues legislators and regulators should seek the means to improve broadband expansion instead of hindering progress that has been made by the free market.Read more

From Our Free-Market Friends
Fondation Tocqueville Stands United Behind Their Work
Our thoughts are with the people of France, including our free-market allies throughout the country. Fondation Tocqueville, located in Paris, France, announced in a press release it would combat those who are committed to the sort of barbarism recently witnessed in Paris with all the energy the organization can muster. Foundation Tocqueville wrote (translated from the original release written in French), “[We will] not allow ourselves feelings of hatred and certainly not fear. Do not leave any decision to the arguments of our attackers, not even to contradict, which would recognize the unnameable, to stand united behind our work, our mission and our values, that is to say, more simply, but more than ever, to remain ourselves.”

The vision statement from the Fondation Tocqueville website states, “The Tocqueville Foundation promotes a well-developed and effective civil society where individuals, acting together, address common problems and build sustainable social equity for future generations.” Liberté, égalité, fraternité.



The November issue of Budget & Tax News reports on a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report detailing the Internal Revenue Service’s failure to enact safeguards to prevent unequal compliance scrutiny of non-profit organizations. Beginning in 2010, employees of the IRS’s Exempt Organizations division violated policies by singling out conservative organizations for special examination. Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL), chairman of the U.S. House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Oversight, says lawmakers must continue to pressure IRS to change its ways. “We are going to continue to do the oversight necessary to keep this in the minds of the American public and to make sure the IRS knows we are watching them,” he said.

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