Democrats in the Michigan state legislature recently announced the “Michigan 2020” plan, a proposal to provide “free” college tuition—up to $9,500 per year—to Michigan students to attend a state college. Supporters say that this will provide increased opportunities for more low-income students to attend post-secondary institutions.
However, there are several reasons why the Michigan plan may not be as great as it seems.
For starters, this plan is costly, at $1.8 billion, or nearly 4 percent of the total Michigan budget. And $1.8 billion may just be the tip of the iceberg if the program draws students to Michigan to fulfill the requirements to participate in the program. Also, the responsibility for paying for college would not be placed on the consumer—i.e., the student—but would be unfairly passed on to the taxpayer, including those who choose not to go to college.
Further, simply granting free admission to students might not ultimately benefit students. As Robert VerBruggen of National Review writes:
It’s important to bear in mind that when a policy encourages more students to go to college, it is encouraging marginal students—the students who aren’t sure whether college is worth it at the current price. These students are more likely to be insufficiently prepared for college, to drop out once they get there, and to learn little even if they do graduate.
The Michigan 2020 plan has no academic requirement. Students do not have to demonstrate sufficient academic performance to be successful in college. It would seem, then, that this plan would only provide a path for many students to attempt to attend college and then fail because they are inadequately prepared for the academic rigor of post-secondary study. If the state of Michigan wants to help students attend college and succeed, they should implement reforms within their K-12 education system to better prepare their students for higher education.
Michigan’s proposal will not solve the root of the problem of college access: ever-increasing college costs. Increased subsidies for higher education have led to higher cost for students, a fact that seems to have been largely ignored by supporters of increased government funding.
The $9,500 amount is also the median tuition at a state school in Michigan; this discount will be adjusted to reflect changes in tuition over time. This means that schools in Michigan have no incentive to lower their tuition costs below the $9,500 the state has guaranteed.
While providing “free” tuition may sound like a wonderful way to encourage college success, the Michigan 2020 plan would create many more problems than it solves. Not only would it drive up state budget costs and likely inflate college tuition rates, but it assumes that merely sending more students to college will result in academic success.
Instead, Michigan should consider innovative reforms to K-12 and higher education that make college more accessible and affordable for a broader array of students. These types of policies are not only more likely to lead to academic success but are much more fiscally sound for everyone.
Danielle Hanson is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at the Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/internships-young-leaders/the-heritage-foundation-internship-program