Hillary Clinton unveiled an interactive tool on Monday that lets families calculate how much they would save under her proposal to eliminate tuition at public colleges and universities, a plan that new research says would swell the rolls at state schools while draining enrollment at private ones.
The calculator is rooted in the Democratic presidential candidate’s pitch that in-state tuition be free for students from household earning less than $125,000 a year. Families can see whether they’d benefit from the plan by plugging in their annual income, where they live and what type of college their child plans on attending.
A Maryland resident, for instance, with designs on one of the state’s four-year universities and whose parents make $70,000 a year could save $36,640 on tuition over four years, according to the calculator. If that same student chose to attend a local community college, the savings would be about $8,283 over two years.
The calculator also lets students with education loans see how much they could save through the refinancing proposal issued by Clinton, who also promotes the existing suite of income-based repayment plans on the site. It also highlights other aspects of the candidate’s higher education proposal, including investments in minority-serving institutions and campus-based child care.
Clinton captured the interest of academics and policy wonks last summer with her far-reaching $350 billion platform to make college affordable, which has grown over the course of the last year in size and cost. The candidate’s expansion of the tuition proposal to include more families tacked on another $100 billion to the expense of the overall plan. While some higher education experts have praised the free college plan, others say the six-figure income threshold subsidizes families who can afford to pay for college and could lead to overcrowding in schools.
A recent study by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce said Clinton’s tuition proposal could boost enrollment at two- and four-year public institutions by up to 22 percent.
Researchers at the center, who called their analysis an educated guess because of the unprecedented nature of the plan, expect that students who otherwise could not afford college would file into schools with open enrollment. This would have a cascading effect as students who could not get admitted to more selective flagship and mid-tier public universities head to open-access institutions, researchers said.
Private colleges, mainly the less selective ones, could see a decline in enrollment of up to 15 percent, according to the study. Wealthy families, who face the highest tuition at private universities, would have the greatest incentive to keep their children in state. Still, the greatest growth in new students would be among those who had not considered college as an option until free tuition was on the table, the study said.
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