2017 will see a coordinated effort from progressive lawmakers to make state-funded schools tuition free, passing the cost on to taxpayers, but it could end up hurting students who are already getting state aid.
State Rep.Will Guzzardi, D-Chicago, is leading a new campaign to pay for all in-state public college tuition using what he calls "a menu of progressive options" that mostly target corporations and the wealthy.
"It will enable our young people to start their careers with firm economic footing, and it will make our universities vibrant places of learning for the long term," Guzzardi said in a press conference.
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Education-reform expert and Manhattan Institute Senior Fellow Max Eden said studies have shown that free school will get you more students, but lower graduation rates.
"More students attend from free-college countries, but fewer students graduate in free-college countries," Eden said. "To me, that essentially comes down to college quality."
In studies from similar situations, high-profile universities such as the University of Illinois would typically adapt their funding structure toward being solely dependent on state dollars and lower the overall quality of the institution.
Eden said making schools solely reliant on taxpayer funds leaves them vulnerable to economic recessions, possibly turning away students when budgets get tight.
"A major hit to the public budgets will be a major hit to public universities because they have no other recourse,” Eden said. “This is going to be a major hit to the quality of those universities."
The progressive Campaign for Free College Tuition said the state would lose $1.45 billion in foregone tuition if the state offered tuition-free school. Its study also said the cost would "be much higher" because students in private colleges would move to public universities for the free education, something Eden said has happened in similar situations, further diluting the quality of state-funded education for low-income students.