Despite education’s importance, enormous barriers to affording it still exist for far too many aspiring students.

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Affordable education is crucial to a promising future

By Don Kusler
Special to Tribune News Service

THE issues facing America’s colleges and its college students have rightfully been getting plenty of attention this presidential election campaign.

After all, education is key in attaining financial health. Time and again, financial success has been linked with schooling, whether it occurs in a trade school, community college or four-year university.

The average annual income gap between college-educated workers and those without diplomas has grown to more than $30,000 — not a small sum for individuals, their families and the communities that depend on their consumerism and tax revenue to drive the local economy.

Despite education’s importance, enormous barriers to affording it still exist for far too many aspiring students.

Many can’t even get started with higher education because of the cost. And some families, even though they earn too much money to receive grant or loan support, still cannot afford the escalating costs.

Even those who do qualify for loans often wind up borrowing huge sums of money to complete their degrees, leaving school with not just a diploma but also crushing debt as they begin their careers.

I know such challenges firsthand. After helping my older siblings finance their educations, my parents found themselves down to one income and with increased money pressures resulting from aging and depleted reserves. Consequently, I was largely on my own in paying for school.

Despite good grades, academic grants didn’t materialize, and my parents made too much money for me to qualify for state or federal grants.

So I turned to loans, finished school with numerous types of debt and spent the next decade living on the financial edge before successfully breaking free.

While Donald Trump doesn’t talk much about education, it’s been refreshing to see Hillary Clinton take the discussion to a new level.

In fact, she has a plan that would immediately make families earning $85,000 or less a year eligible for free tuition at four-year public colleges and universities. The income threshold would rise to $125,000 by 2021. All community colleges would have free tuition under her plan.

The blueprint also calls on states to increase educational funding and would hold institutions of higher education accountable for controlling costs and promoting student success.

She would also establish a $25 billion fund supporting historically black colleges and universities and institutions serving Hispanics and other minorities, not to mention students who are parents.

Additionally, the plan would make it easier to refinance loans and force lenders to offer loans with lower rates. Predatory lenders would be targeted as well.

Taken together, the measures would help many students find a better path forward. The plan would be funded by rolling back certain tax deductions and credits for high-income earners, her campaign has said.

Clinton’s plan, for all its positives, is, of course, not perfect. Many students would still find non-tuition expenses a burden, and grant funding at the state and federal level needs to be boosted beyond what the plan calls for.

If the plan is fully implemented, though, it would dramatically lower the financial hurdles to higher education and give a helping hand to students past, present and future. Such a plan deserves all our support.

‘Free’ college tuition plan comes with a big price tag

By Vicki Alger
Special to Tribune News Service

HILLARY Clinton’s free college plan is long on promises but short on specifics — like who’ll pay for it.

Under the plan, dubbed the New College Compact, in-state tuition at public two- and four-year colleges and universities would be free for students whose families earn $125,000 or less annually (starting in 2021), roughly 80 percent of all American families.

Additional tax funds, interest-rate cuts, repayment caps and loan-forgiveness schemes would be used to make college a virtually debt-free experience.

The projected cost of Clinton’s higher education free-for-all is bad enough. But it is probably just a down payment.

In reality, the plan doesn’t come close to covering public tuition and fees, which now total more than $70 billion annually — twice the projected yearly cost of Clinton’s plan. Nor would it fix the staggering student-loan-debt problem, which currently exceeds $1.3 trillion.

One of the worst elements of the plan is that college degrees would become about as meaningless as free high-school diplomas.

Many of those who go on to college have to enroll in remedial classes, increasing the likelihood they’ll drop out.

If the past six decades have taught us anything, it’s that we can’t subsidize our way to college affordability, much less quality. The federal government’s reach into education has grown steadily since 1958, and with it, college costs that have increased at about twice the general inflation rate.

That’s because federal subsidies allow colleges and universities to increase prices with impunity. For all of Washington’s finger-wagging, few politicians are going to support withholding — much less cutting — federal aid. And colleges know it.

Perhaps the greatest cost of all to Clinton’s free college plan is nurturing the notion that a college degree is an entitlement, not something earned.

At most public colleges and universities, the majority of undergraduates already receive financial aid. And what are taxpayers getting for their investment?

  • In the past year or so alone, students at the University of California, San Diego had time for a topless “Free the Nipple” rally.
  • California Polytechnic State University students organized a three-day “Shit In” to promote gender-neutral bathrooms.
  • Students at the University of Texas, Austin traded in their longhorns for sex toys to protest a new campus gun-carry law.

Such activities are taking place on campuses nationwide, largely on the taxpayers’ dime, at a time when an alarming majority of professors report their first-year college students can’t distinguish between fact and opinion, and at least 20 percent of undergraduates won’t complete their four-year degrees in six years.

With federal debt quickly approaching $20 trillion, Clinton’s proposed giveaway is something our country can’t afford.

Yet the full cost of the Clinton plan can’t be measured entirely in dollars and cents.

Indeed, the full cost is incalculable because Clinton is trying to satisfy an insatiable appetite for entitlements that feeds off the hard work and sacrifice of others and is constantly demanding more.

© , Tribune Content Agency

Vicki Alger is a research fellow at the Independent Institute, a libertarian conservative think tank, and author of the new book, “Failure: The Federal Misedukation of America’s Children.”