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Karl W. Smith

The Hidden Cost of Free College

Federal loans and tuition subsidies have already driven up the number of graduates. That helps employers, not workers.

Carpe diem.

Carpe diem.

Photographer: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have both proposed to make higher education free for all Americans. This proposal has an intuitive logic. Elementary school and high school is provided at no charge. Higher education, they argue, shouldn't be any different, especially in an economy where a post-secondary degree is increasingly required for a middle-class job.

Moreover, if higher education had always been tuition-free, students would not have accumulated so much debt. Cancelling that debt may be expensive, but maybe that’s the price the nation has to pay for neglecting its responsibility to provide higher education to anyone who wanted it.