Clinton’s free education policy could affect University students

A report released from Georgetown University showed projected increase in public institution enrollment and a decrease in private colleges.

Olivia Johnson

As students grapple with who they will vote for this November, some discussions have turned to what higher education would look like if Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump were elected.

A recently released report by Georgetown University outlined what would change in educational institutions — like the University of Minnesota — if presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton’s debt-free college policy was implemented. Enrollment at public institutions would swell, while it would drop at private colleges and universities, the report found.

“We were asked by various outside groups and individuals to look into this,” said Cary Lou, a senior analyst at Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the workforce and co-author of the study. “They were interested in what the potential changes and the effects of the policy would be.”

The policy outlines a goal of debt-free college for students, according to her campaign website.

“Families with income up to $125,000 will pay no tuition at in-state public colleges and universities,” a campaign statement said. “The income threshold will increase by $10,000 a year every year over the next four years so that, by 2021, all students with a family income of $125,000 will have the opportunity to receive a college education tuition-free.”

Republican candidate Donald Trump’s policies on higher education would incentivize and encourage institutions to enroll students who are more likely to pay their student loans. He also wants loans to come from private lenders instead of from the federal government, the Associated Press reported.

The findingsIn the report, researchers focused on the projected outcome of Clinton’s higher education policy. The report did not examine Trump’s higher education stance.

They used similar examples of free college — like the Tennessee Promise Program that made community and technical institutions free in the state — and created estimates about how school enrollment would change if the plan was put into place.

Lou said Clinton’s policy would only apply to public institutions, but would also affect enrollment numbers for private schools.

The report projects that enrollment at public universities would increase between nine and 22 percent. Private university enrollment could decrease by up to 15 percent.

“[The report is] really to start the debate” he said. “It’s to get people thinking about what is realistic as well as what … policy tweaks could be added to make it more beneficial to all sectors and to all students.”

Steve Kelley, a senior fellow at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, dealt with higher education budgets and policy while in the Minnesota Senate and House of Representatives between 1993 and 2006. He said while there are many variables within the policy, free tuition could make the University and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities attractive to new students.

“I don’t know whether their national estimate of a nine to 22 percent increase for public institutions is right, but let’s assume that it is, and then the question is, how does that apply to Minnesota?” Kelley said. “I think the answer is that it’s hard to predict.”

If the policy became law, Kelley said an issue that the University’s Board of Regents would need to discuss is whether they want to physically expand the University.

“For example, there’s a lot of demand for the College of Science and Engineering, but the college is running out of classroom space and places to put new faculty members,” he said. “There’d be a limit on how quickly the University could ramp up, particularly in some of the subject areas.”

Although the state has discussed free enrollment for certain categories of students, nothing’s been done about it, Kelley said.

“When Minnesota has talked about … free tuition, what we’ve ended up saying is that it makes more sense to increase the funding that goes to students for grants based on need,” he said, “because a free tuition program would invariably help middle class families and students who, arguably, could afford some tuition.”

Maddie Mercil, a cultural studies and comparative literature junior, is the outreach director for the University College Democrats student group.

“I like the idea of giving more people access to higher education,” she said. “Implementation would be complicated.”

Mercil said that if the policies were put into place, she thinks the pool of students that the University pulls from would grow significantly, offering up increased diversity on campus.

The community would inevitably change as the University would broaden student accommodations, she said.