Free tuition would be a disaster for private colleges

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When Hillary Clinton was struggling to win the Democrat party nomination against upstart Bernie Sanders, she co-opted his idea of free college tuition for all. To appease Sanders supporters, she allowed the idea to become part of the Democrat Party platform on which she is now running. If she really attempts to promote this idea, it will be a disaster for higher education in the country. Connecticut with its longstanding private school tradition will be especially hard hit.

Although free college tuition is a popular idea, very few people have noticed that the Democrat platform only calls for free tuition at public or state supported schools. Inevitably, such a law would drive most private institutions of higher learning in this country out of business.

Perhaps prestigious and well-endowed institutions like Yale might survive, but most private schools would have to close their doors. In my home town of Fairfield, Sacred Heart University, in the midst of a massive building program, would go out of business. The University of Bridgeport would not be able to survive. Even Fairfield University, a popular Jesuit school, would be hard pressed. In the New Haven area, the University of New Haven, Quinnipiac College, and Albertus Magnus college would probably have to close their doors. Upstate, Wesleyan and Trinity would find it difficult to keep going, and the private University of Hartford would most likely fail.

If these schools close down, where will their students go? Obamacare provides a good frame of reference. States will be mandated to provide higher education for all and bear the costs since there are no such things as federal colleges and universities. The various states and municipalities would have to expand their facilities and staffs to cover the huge influx of new students. Or else, the various private schools will have to be taken over by the state and become public schools.

If free college tuition is such a good idea, why did Gov. Dannel Malloy and the Democrat legislature fail to propose it already for Connecticut? On the contrary, budget constraints have caused the state to raise tuition at UConn and other state schools throughout Malloy’s term in office. Connecticut is one of the wealthier states in the country. If we can’t afford it, how can we expect poorer states to help us?

According to the Democrat platform, the federal government would somehow find the means to pay the tuition costs at these public educational institutions. Also, can there be any doubt that if the federal government pays the tuition, it will be the boss. It will determine the amount of tuition that the states can charge in the same way that it sets medical costs in Medicare and Obamacare.

In addition, the federal bureaucrats will inevitably cave into activist demands that there be no admission standards. Actually, this is the case in most state universities today. In Connecticut, for example, the state promises that it’s university system will provide a place for every applicant. Of course, only the top students can go to the flagship UConn campus. Less qualified students go to a variety of less prestigious schools. Once the federal government takes over, such an arrangement will likely be declared discriminatory. The lesser schools are separate but not equal.

Recently the Wall Street Journal partnered with an educational think tank to rate the various colleges and universities in the country. Four Connecticut private schools were in the top 100. Yale was 5, Wesleyan was 45, Trinity was 64, and Connecticut College was 95. The University of Connecticut was a respectable 109 but none of the other Connecticut public colleges made the list.

Finally, free public school tuition will also bring centralized control of curriculum and standards. When President Obama pushed his medical care plan back in 2008, he claimed that if you liked your current plan, you could keep it. We now know how false that promise was. Under the Democrat free tuition proposal, the alma mater that you love will either go out of business, or descend into government directed sameness and mediocrity.

Francis P. DeStefano, Ph.D., of Fairfield, is a writer, lecturer, historian and retired financial planner.

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