There are worthwhile intra-Democratic debates to be had over tuition-free college. But Pete Buttigieg’s latest broadside against the policy isn't one of them, writes EricLevitz
Tuition-free college won’t attract the children of billionaires to America’s public universities. But it would be an even better program if it did.
On the other hand, this same basic logic could have been deployed in opposition to tuition-free 12th grade a generation ago (after all, the most disadvantaged students drop out before senior year). If we believe that the value of public education isn’t limited to its function as a generator of human capital or labor-force readiness — and thus, that it does not merely benefit its direct recipients but also, society as a whole — then the distributional implications of tuition-free college don’t necessarily matter. (In my own view, the growing correlation between college-degree attainment and immunity to xenophobic nationalism strengthens the case for seeing higher education as a broad social good.)
All of which is to say: There are worthwhile intra-Democratic debates to be had over tuition-free college, including ones that interrogate its distributional impacts.
Now, if Pete had restricted his complaint to millionaires, he’d have something closer to a point. (Many upper-middle-class families do own more than $1 million in assets.) According to the Roosevelt Institute’s Mike Konczal, children whose parents are in the top one percent of earners would commandeer a whopping 1.4 percent of spending on tuition-free college. It’s hard to see why that sum should be a dealbreaker, especially if the policy is funded with higher taxes on the rich. Still, it isn’t literally nothing.Read more: New York Magazine
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