Free college tuition could be a mixed blessing, some say. Others think it’s a great idea.

By Ryan Tyransky

Imagine having $30,100 in debt. That’s the average owed by individuals who are among the 68 percent of 2015 graduates of public colleges and universities who have debt to repay after college, according to the Institute for College Access & Success.

With college being extremely expensive, students take out federally backed student loans to pay for their education.

“The national average for tuition at public four-year institutions jumped by $5,653 to $9,139 in 2014,” according to Oregon Sen. Mark Hass, who said this when he proposed legislation to offer free community college in his state. Hass’s bill passed.

That’s one partial solution to the problem. With college tuition rates and graduates’ debt loads continuing to rise, the question is: What is the rest of America going to do about the price of college?

The Democratic nominee for president, Hillary Clinton, has laid out a plan to offer free college tuition. “By 2021, if a student’s family makes under $125,000, tuition would be free for students at public, four-year institutions. At its implementation, tuition would be free for students whose families make less than $85,000 a year. Community college tuition would be free.”

Republican nominee Donald Trump has not put a plan together regarding the issue.

But what would Clinton’s plan do to the taxpayers who must finance it? And how would it affect U.S. higher education as a whole? A couple of economic experts and a number of students were interviewed on these questions.

“People react to incentives, the balance between cost and benefit. Sometimes, if a student has free tuition, the student thinks the cost is zero. They put less effort in, gaining knowledge,” said Sokchea Lim, an economics professor in the Boler School of Business at John Carroll University.

Lim believes that free education could cause students to expend less effort, which could affect how the U.S. compares to other countries.

The wealthy would not be pleased with Clinton’s plan to make them pay for the free-tuition plan, said Lindsay Calkins, associate dean of the Boler School of Business and associate professor of economics at John Carroll University.

“Why shouldn’t those who receive the direct benefits of attending college pay for their own education?” she said.

“No one wants to pay more taxes. Wealthy people probably do not send their children to public schools, taking advantage of the free education system” added Lim. “They would not be happy paying for other people’s kids going to school.”

Then there is the question of what happens to colleges that are not covered by the Clinton plan.

“From an economics perspective, if one group of colleges are now free, what are the implications for other schools, such as JCU?” Calkins said. “So, while community colleges and students may be better off, it might adversely affect many other schools.”

Both Calkins and Lim predicted that the economics side of this plan would not work out well for private colleges such as John Carroll. These administrators seem to believe in a value system where a student should pay for their education, just as if it was a car or a house.

But not all students feel the same way, even at a private college like John Carroll. This reporter asked several current undergraduates and a recent graduate what they thought of the Clinton proposal.

“As a realist I do not believe the bill will go through, but I love the idea of a tuition-free college,” said Ray Brewster, a junior at John Carroll University.

“I think college can never be free, but I believe the price is ridiculous and we should at least bring it down,” said Alex Dahlkemper’s, who is a junior at John Carroll University.

“I was fortunate that my parents could help me pay for college. I could not imagine having the debt that some of my co-workers have,” was Lisa Hoenen’s response when asked about college debt. She graduated from Bowling Green University in Ohio and went to Case Western Reserve for graduate school.

There are people like Hoenen, who are well-off and have parents who can help pay for their education, so they do not need to worry about a massive debt load. Loenen, who is now a nurse, said she is dealing with minimal debt, but she knows people who are struggling to pay off their education.

“It is unbelievable to think that people pay $600 in student loans per month,” Hoenen said.

But some students were against free tuition on principle.

“I believe college should be something that an individual should pay for. They are the person who is going to class and putting in the effort. I believe that a degree is something that has meaning and should be earned,” said Nick Luchansky, currently a junior at John Carroll University.

“The idea is terrible. I do not like it at all. I think people would skip class more often. Also, a college degree would mean less if everyone would have one,” was the response of Breanna Mysek, a junior at Mercyhurst University.