Will “free college” be like taxpayer sports stadiums?

Photo by Marvin Ronsdorf on Unsplash

When the owner of a professional sports teams decide their team needs a new stadium they’ll often seek tax-payer support in the form of tax-exempt municipal bonds. Their argument goes, “our new stadium will create jobs for the community and drive economic growth for the region, so tax-payers will come out on top by helping to fund our stadium”. This argument seems to win over the local government officials as an estimated 36 of the 45 sports stadiums built between 2000-2015 received some level of tax-payer support. This crony-capitalist acceptance by government officials runs counter to recurring research showing that the “economic payoff” of sports stadiums is largely a myth (U of Illinois study, Sports Jobs, and Taxes, and St. Louis Fed Reserve Bank). I’d guess few tax-payers would march through the streets demanding teams recieve free stadiums, but what about a more noble and meaningful cause like higher education.

Is it time for college tuition to be “free”? The rhetoric of many progressive politicians is resoundingly yes; most notably Bernie Sanders in his bid to be president in 2016. The argument goes that college is critical to driving economic opportunity for individuals, and more college-educated people would be better for the country, so college tuition should be free for all.

Is this true, or would tax-payer funded college education (i.e. “free”) be like tax-payer funded professional sports arenas?

In his WSJ op ed Think College is Expensive? Wait until it’s free, Jason Riley suggests that a free college might not be as much of a benefit to individuals or our society as some would have us believe. College tuition is only 20% of the cost of college considering there’s known costs such as room & board, dining hall and books and supplies, not to count the various hidden costs. What may be even more surprising is that based on work by economic historian Richard Vedder, as student aid becomes more generous college costs go up, not down. To compound the concern, much of the supposed benefit to individuals, particularly the lower-income students, may not be as beneficial as first thought with a decrease in the graduation rate of lower-income students. So would “free” college tuition actually deliver us into a better future, or would it simply pave a path to office for a handful of politicians and be an economic drag on our future.

Interested in taking action on either taxpayer stadiums or tuition? The most direct route is to contact your US Government Officials, which you can do here, and let them know where you stand. For stadiums, you can also stay up to date via the Mercatus center at George Mason University (recent article), and while contacting your Government Official tell them to take action again on Bill H.R.811.