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“Free college” isn’t free: Students deserve solutions, not slogans [Opinion]

(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Massive amounts of student loan debt. Tuition costs through the roof. Countless young men and women graduating with degrees that don’t lead to well-paying jobs. This is the unfortunate reality for so many millennials in today’s economy.

Young people know crushing student loan debt is hurting their ability to make the purchases that have defined being an adult in America for years — buying a home and saving for retirement. Student loan debt is crowding out other investments young people could make for their future.

Many Democrats propose “debt-free” tuition. Hillary Clinton has said, “You should not have to borrow a dime to pay tuition.” On the surface, debt-free tuition sounds appealing. But like so much in life, nothing is truly free. “Free” tuition would pass higher costs to all taxpayers. And it would give colleges little incentive to reduce the skyrocketing cost of tuition.

The main cause of higher tuition and loan debt, according to the New York Times, is an increase in easily secured federal loans combined with increased demand for college education. As more students take out more money for college, colleges respond by increasing tuition. So the Democrats’ most publicized plan would not bring down college debt, but would rack up more on the backs of millennials.

While there are conservative ideas for lowering the cost of college and reducing student loan debt, you are not hearing about them from enough GOP politicians. I’d like to highlight some ideas that would help reduce the cost of college and lessen the burden of student loans. It is time for Republicans to be as serious about this issue as they are about many other issues that get so much attention in this campaign.

The first thing we can do is make sure high school students know all the details about how much the college degree they want to pursue will cost. They should have full access to data on the average income of those who get that particular degree at that particular college. They should know how much debt they will be expected to accrue for each degree and each college. This will mean fewer students choosing degrees and universities that will leave them unemployed or underemployed and under a mountain of debt.

We should also reform the accreditation system that currently favors traditional four-year university degrees over non-traditional education routes. According to Senator Mike Lee and Congressman Ron DeSantis, the federal government restricts student aid to students attending schools that have obtained approval from a regional accreditation body. But if a student wants to pursue online education, vocational learning, apprenticeships in skilled trades, or other certification programs, they don’t have access to loan money. The more competition there is from non-traditional education methods, the more traditional colleges will have to find ways to cut back on unnecessary costs. According to Sen. Lee, we should open up accreditation to businesses as well so they can create more training programs to teach more people the specific skills they need from employees. For instance, General Electric could accredit an engineering major or Facebook could accredit courses in website development and coding. This would extend ladders of opportunity for more and create a workforce more trained for high-paying jobs, while fostering more choice and competition to lower the costs of college education.

There are surely more innovative solutions out there, but this is a start. Education is the pathway to success in a free economy. And conservatives should not cede education to the Left. Our future is too important.

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