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Brian Mark Weber / Nov. 2, 2018

The High Cost of 'Free' College

If Democrats win, expect a push to expand federal giveaways for college tuition.

When the dust settles from next Tuesday’s crucial midterm elections, the party that controls the House of Representatives will largely determine our nation’s public policy agenda. And one of the big items on the table is the federal student-loan program. As with health care and a host of other important issues, chalk this up as yet another piece of low-hanging fruit that Republicans failed to grab.

Despite controlling the White House and both houses of Congress, Republicans couldn’t muster enough votes to pass the PROSPER Act in 2017. Instead of having enacted their own reforms to higher-education standards and student-loan reforms, including the assurance that freedom of speech and fiscal responsibility were key components of the new act, Republicans may well be handing this one over to Democrats.

And don’t think for a moment that the Democrats don’t have a plan.

House and Senate Democrats are planning to reauthorize the Higher Education Act in the form of the Orwellian Aim Higher Act, which will largely take student-loan borrowers off the hook for repaying their loans while leaving taxpayers to foot the bill. If Democrats have their way, billions of dollars in student loans will be forgiven in a move that takes us one step closer to their dream of “free” college for everyone.

Of course, the AHA doesn’t bother to tackle government spending, ensure education quality, or incentivize lower tuition. Even illegal immigrants who quality for DACA will be free to rack up student-loan debt with no responsibility to pay it back. Prisoners, too, will be able to tap into Pell Grants and earn a college degree.

The only thing that changes in the Democrats’ plan is that even more federal money will be spent on higher education. As with all other socialist fantasies, “free” education is anything but free — except for those most responsible for running up the tab.

Jason Delisle and Cody Christensen write at National Review that payments on student loans under the revised program would barely cover the interest on those loans: “Such generous repayment terms transform federal loans almost into grants, signaling that borrowing more is better than borrowing less. For graduate and professional students who, unlike undergraduates, can access unlimited federal loans for tuition and living expenses, the Aim Higher Act would turn the loan program into a veritable ATM that dispenses taxpayer dollars, at least for those who ended up earning middle-class incomes.”

One aspect of the new proposal that seems too bad to be true is that students who’ve borrowed a higher amount may simply be able to run out the clock on their debt. “Thanks to the income exemption in the Aim Higher Act,” Delisle and Christensen add, “payments are low enough that the additional principal and interest owed on debts higher than $65,000 for a borrower with the given income profile are simply forgiven at the 20-year point. A $165,000 loan costs this borrower the same as a $65,000 loan. Either way, monthly payments would be identical for 20 years, and then all remaining debt is forgiven. Graduate students who do not max out their loans under such incentives would literally leave free money — provided at taxpayers’ expense — on the table.”

Democrats always claim that offering free public services will actually save money and reduce the national debt. In the end, forgiving more student loans under the Aim Higher Act will only add more weight onto the shoulders of future generations. Just last year, Money reported that student-loan debt had topped $1.3 trillion. But as long as college-age voters flock to the Democrat Party, no one in their leadership ranks really cares about the cost.

As Margaret Thatcher once famously stated, “The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.” Free college for all? Don’t fall for it.

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