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Noah Smith

Free College Isn't All It's Cracked Up to Be

Bernie Sanders's "College for All" plan would be costly and offer uncertain benefits.
Cap, gown, opportunity cost.

Cap, gown, opportunity cost.

Photographer: Michael Okoniewski/Bloomberg

"The U.S. needs more education" has been conventional wisdom for decades now. I can still remember, as a teenager, hearing Bill Clinton and other politicians promise that higher education would be the key to preparing Americans for the new information-based economy.

That orthodoxy has not diminished in force -- if anything, higher education looms larger as a policy tool now than it did then. The idea is especially powerful on the political left. President Obama recently unveiled an initiative to make two years of community college free across the nation. A recent Brookings Institution report on eliminating poverty and enhancing opportunity (written jointly with the American Enterprise Institute) made education one of its main planks.