Where Exceptional Begins

Clinton’s Education Proposal and the Future of Private Colleges

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by Dr. Michael Grossman

In a nod to Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton unveiled a plan to make tuition in 2 and 4 year public colleges and universities free for all in-state students whose family makes less than $125,000 per year.

The Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce provided an interesting analysis of the impact of this proposal, including its effect on social stratification and, more importantly for this discussion, on private institutions.

Here are the results of the Georgetown Center’s analysis[1](the full report can be found at https://cew.georgetown.edu/wp-content/uploads/Clintons-Free-College-Proposal.pdf):

  • “an increase in enrollment at public colleges and universities of 9 percent to 22 percent, with a median estimate of 16 percent.”
  • “Enrollment at private colleges would decline by 7-15 percent, with a median estimate of 11 percent since many students will be lured to public colleges. The Georgetown Center believes that a significant number of students attending private colleges and universities, particularly less selective ones, would be lured to transfer to public colleges because they would no longer have to pay tuition.”
  • “The largest enrollment increases in public colleges would be at open-access institutions. The range of potential increases is 13-31 percent, with a median projection of 23 percent.”

Whenever a policy is being discussed there is often little discussion of the unintended consequences.  A good example of this are the laws concerning texting and driving. A study done in September 2010 by the Highway Loss Data Institute found that crashes increased in three of the four states that had enacted texting bans at the time. The reason for this trend is that people continued to text but, since it was now illegal, they lowered their phone to their laps thus taking their eyes off the road.[2]  The point here is that a law created for the best of intentions can, in fact, result in some unintended results and they should be discussed.

The same can be said for Hillary Clinton’s proposal. There is no doubt that student debt in this country has gotten out of control. It has consistently grown over the past decades, outpacing household debt, and putting college out of reach for many students.  Currently, there are over 40 million students who owe over $1.2 trillion dollars in total student loan debts.[3] The numbers are staggering and it makes sense to find a way to help these students but we must think of the unintended consequences.  Specifically, what will happen to schools like Mount Union if they lose between 7% and 15% of their enrolled students?


[1] Anthony Carnevale, Martin Van Der Werf, and Cary Lou, The Enrollment Effects of Clinton’s Free College Proposal. (Washington, DC: Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce, 2016). Emphasis added.

[2] Bianca Cain Johnson, “Texting while driving laws might have unintended consequences,” The Augusta Chronicle (April 20, 2012). http://chronicle.augusta.com/news/crime-courts/2012-04-20/texting-while-driving-laws-might-have-unintended-consequences#

[3] Susan Dynarski, “New Data Gives Clearer Picture of Student Debt,” New York Times (September 10, 2015). http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/11/upshot/new-data-gives-clearer-picture-of-student-debt.html?_r=0

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