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Critics: Democrat plan to give students free college tuition will devalue education and create a new class of government dependents

Standing for Freedom Center Staff /

A provision of the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill would make community college free for everyone, while also increasing Pell grant funding, but critics say that effectively paying adult students to attend college will devalue higher education and trap students in a cycle of government dependence.

Quick Facts

While Democrats are saying this policy would allow more people to reach the middle class, others are warning this is a handout that is paying people to go to school.

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said, “At its core, this legislation is about restoring the middle class in the 21st century and giving more Americans the opportunity to get there. By making education, health care, child care and housing more affordable, we can give tens of millions of families a leg up.”

The Campaign for Free College Tuition and the advocacy group Rise released a study that said enrollment in public universities would increase. Robert Shapiro, the main author of the study, said, “I cannot think of a single policy change that would affect the long-term prospects of as many people as this would.”

He added, “I feel quite confident that ultimately this program will pay for itself. It will raise incomes and also raise underlying productivity which would [in turn] raise incomes and corporate profit.”

Others are more cautious. Education economist Preston Cooper said, “I’m worried about perverse incentives of these two policies together: free community college and Pell expansion. Right now, this is less of a problem because most of your Pell money will go to tuition, so the rebate students get is smaller. But if community college becomes free, that changes.”

Pell grant funding can exceed the cost of tuition at community college. Democrats plan to spend $33 billion on Pell grants next year, an increase of 10 percent from last year.

Carlo Salerno, another education economist, said, “The big issue is that Pell was designed to pay for education, not living expenses. Why are we turning an education grant into a living grant? Why are community college students specially chosen for increased aid?”

Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., ranking member on the House Education and Labor Committee, claimed, “Democrats won’t admit that community college is already free for those who need it. The maximum Pell Grant already exceeds average tuition and fees for public, two-year institutions.”

She continued, “Pelosi wants to slap a clearance sign on college degrees and then design federal program after federal program to keep those students entangled in a web of government subsidies.”

The measure also says that states cannot impose conditions or requirements on students receiving the grants, such as having to keep a minimum grade point average or carrying a full course load.

In a twist on the famous line in the movie “Field of Dreams,” Ben Shapiro said of this subsidy, “Make it free and they will come.”

College education has already lost its value because so many people get in without merit; this entitlement will only further water down the educational standards found in our community colleges and universities. It’s part of the reason why employers who once required employees to have associates’ degrees now expect them to have bachelors’ degrees.

However, this is not the key concern here. Students who take out loans are required to pay the money back; however, grant recipients don’t have to pay anything back. Making college free for students and then giving them a grant of money worth more than the actual cost of tuition is paying students to go to college with taxpayer dollars. It is immoral to use other people’s money to pay someone to attend college. What about those who choose to go into a trade out of high school and immediately enter the workforce? Why are they not rewarded for their hard work and instantly becoming a taxpayer?

This Democrat plan undermines the dignity and confidence that students gain from working hard and sacrificing to achieve excellence and attain their goals.

Worse, it is just one more tactic designed to create a permanent and far-reaching nanny state where the government coddles students and keeps them in a dependent state. College is not a right, it is a privilege. Moreover, it is not a necessity to success. It is just one path of many, and if this is the path students choose, they should be on that path because they want to challenge themselves in preparation for a desired career and success — not because they’re being paid to be there.