Why Free Tuition at Public Colleges Won’t Close the Enrollment Gap


Financial constraints are widely seen as the reason why fewer students from low-income families make it to university than those who are better off. This reasoning has long prompted calls for tuition-free public college education. In fact, insufficient college preparation among low-income students is a bigger barrier than funding tuition fees, according to Wharton, a doctoral student in finance. Mehran Ebrahimian. His new paper is titled “Student loans and social mobility. “

In order to explore the effectiveness of policies aimed at reducing financial barriers for low-income students, Ebrahimian built a model using panel datasets covering 2.6 million high school graduates and 1.6 million students enrolled for the first time in the 2003-2004 school year. . The main conclusion of his research is that “the main reason we see such disparity in college education and inequalities in education is not because paying the costs of college education is more difficult for students. low-income students. ”

Instead, Ebrahimian’s research led him to “more fundamental” reasons. “Maybe low-income students didn’t go to a good high school and aren’t prepared for college as well. Or think about raising awareness of academic opportunities and perceptions of the expected return to college education for low-income students, ”he says. Students who come from neighborhoods that do not have a high-quality high school education may be “conditioned” to believe that they could not get much value from higher-quality, expensive colleges, he adds. All of these factors constitute what his article described as “fundamental factors”, as opposed to purely monetary reasons.

According to Ebrahimian, making public college tuition free “results in social inefficiencies and is a regressive policy.” He estimated the budgetary cost of free tuition in public colleges to be around $ 57 billion per year and increasing student welfare in units of dollars to around $ 40 billion, or about $ 17 billion. less than what the government would pay as a subsidy.

Moreover, making public colleges free would disproportionately benefit the wealthiest students. “Even if you apply the tuition-free public college policy, the unequal model of education would prevail due to the heterogeneity of foundational factors or preparation,” he said. He estimated that students from families in the top income quartile receive about $ 15 billion more in tuition grants per year than those in the bottom income quartile.

Read more on Knowledge @ Wharton.


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