Here's why a lot of economists hate the idea of free public college

While the notion of free college might seem like a good idea to anybody with kids, several economists recently told NPR’s “Planet Money” that it’s not a good plan.

Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, who are vying for the Democratic party’s nomination, both want to make college more affordable.

Sander’s plan is the more extreme of the two — he’s proposing to spend $700 billion to completely waive tuition at public colleges for all students.

Clinton, on the other hand, is proposing a more modest $350 billion
to eliminate costs at community colleges, and implement work-study programs at public colleges for lower-income students.

While a laudable goal, 20 out of the 22 economists interviewed by NPR that Sanders’ plan is a bad idea.

“This proposal is too indiscriminate,” Eric Maskin, a Harvard economist, told “Planet Money.” “Many students can afford to pay a considerable amount toward their higher education. It is wasteful to give them a free ride.”

“A lot of the benefits go to people who have money,” Steve Kaplan, a professor at the University of Chicago, told “Planet Money,” reflecting Maskin’s sentiment.

If you want to actually help low-income students, the economists said that you should just help those students directly through increasing financial aid, according to “Planet Money.”

The economists liked Hillary Clinton’s plan a little better, because it targeted low-income students more directly than Sanders plan — but it was far from the consensus choice. Only five out of the 22 economists were in favour of Clinton’s plan.

“This proposal does a much better job than [free tuition for all] at targeting the students who need the tuition assistance,” says Maskin, who’s in favour of the plan.

Brian Wesbury, the chief economist at First Trust Advisors, is against both Sanders’ and Clinton’s plan, telling WND that it would ultimately raise costs through simple supply-and-demand economics.

“When you give something away for free, the demand for it picks up,” Wesbury told WND
. “When the demand for it picks up, the price picks up. We already know what student loans have done to the cost of college.”

Sanders, for his part, refers to programs in European countries like Germany and Denmark as examples of how the US can provide free college.

But free college in those countries isn’t exactly free — the taxpayers simply absorb the extra cost, reports Business Insider’s Abby Jackson.

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