Public college rolls could spike 22 percent under Clinton plan

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Enrollment at public
colleges could rise between 9 and 22 percent if Democratic presidential nominee
Hillary Clinton were to move forward with plans to eliminate public college
tuition for families earning less than $125,000, according to a new study.

That could translate
into enrollment declines of between 7 and 15 percent at private colleges, the
study predicted.

The estimates were
contained in a new
paper released by Georgetown University’s Center on
Education and the Workforce.

“A significant number of
students attending private colleges and universities, particularly less
selective ones, would be lured to transfer to public colleges because they
would no longer have to pay tuition,” the paper’s authors said.

A surge in student enrollments would cascade unevenly among state institutions, however, the paper suggested.

Many community colleges and public institutions are not in the
position to increase capacity quickly. More desirable schools, meanwhile, can afford to be more selective.

“The most selective institutions
would have their pick of the most qualified and highest achievement students
from their expanded pool of applicants,” allowing them to become even more
selective, the report stated.

The study predicted the largest
enrollment increases in public colleges would occur at open-access institutions, with a potential increase of between 12 and 31 percent.

The report did not address how schools would recover the added costs or what the impact might be on higher education technology leaders, who are already facing budget challenges.

Critics of the Clinton plan suggest public institutions would naturally raise their annual tuition rates, “secure in the knowledge that Uncle Sam would foot the bill,” as New America’s Kevin Carey put it in The New York Times.

The authors of the study
were upfront in acknowledging there’s little precedent, and only limited details, supporting
Clinton’s proposal on which to base their projections.

They also noted that price changes alone, even when tuition is effectively free, doesn’t always drive students’ decisions.

“Roughly half a million students graduate every year with test scores in the upper half of their high school class but never go on the get a certificate or college degree,” they said.

However, Tennessee’s
experience, among other cases studies, offered some indication of what colleges could expect. Tennessee made its two-year public community and technical colleges free beginning in
2015, and saw enrollment figures increase by 20 to 25 percent, the report said.

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