Gray Matters: Free college tuition sounds great, just a question or two

For your whole life, people have been telling you that there’s no such thing as a free lunch but I see the New York’s governor would like to offer free tuition to any college student whose parents earn $125,000 or less a year. A free college education? Sounds great, sign me up. I just have a couple of pesky questions before we get fitted for our cap and gowns.

I learned a long time ago that nothing is free so if someone goes to college and pays nothing, someone has to pay for it right? I’m assuming the professors won’t be teaching for free and the campus book store won’t be handing out $300 text books for nothing. Oh, and the cafeteria will probably want something in exchange for that grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup you plan to order for lunch.

Assuming I’m right, who pays for all this? I’m guessing the taxpayers of New York. But hey some people make lots of money and can probably afford it. OK, second question. What if a child graduating high school has parents who earn a combined salary of $130,000 a year, are they just out of luck? Should one of the parents go to the boss and ask for a $6,000 pay cut in order to get below the “free college” threshold?

Another question just occurred to me. Let’s say someone just graduated from a SUNY school in December or last June and they took out 100K in student loans to pay their own way? Do they get a rebate or are they on the hook for all that money because they were just unfortunate to go to college too soon?  How about all the hardworking parents who saved for 18 years in college funds or maybe took a second mortgage on the house to send little Tommy or Suzie to college? Are we going to give them something or did they miss the boat too?

Last question. Is there any concern that giving away “free college” to state schools will decimate the private schools operating in New York? Right now you have parents deciding if they should send a child to Siena or St. Rose vs. say a SUNY Plattsburgh. They weigh the costs of the private school (with the child living at home) vs. sending them away and paying full room and board. If all state schools are suddenly free for that middle-class family one would think the private schools would instantly be off the table. Could the unintended consequences of the governor’s good deed cripple private schools that are already struggling?

Final thought. I’ve read that we have teachers in inner city school districts buying school supplies out of their own pockets because the children are too poor to afford pencils and paper. Shouldn’t we help those teachers and schools before we start giving away free college? I’m just asking.

“Free” sounds great but it seldom is. I hope someone takes the time to answer all these questions before they ring the school bell on this bold new idea.

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