Conservatives and other opponents of “free college” often use the retort, “there’s nothing free about it” to criticize such plans that eliminate public college tuition for students. Of course, proponents of the plans know that someone will pay for them, just not the student. Like in K-12 education, some taxpayers will foot the bill depending on how the legislation is written. But a new report shows that the plans just might pay for themselves.

Last week, Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce released a report analyzing the cost of former Vice President and Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s free college plan. Biden’s plan would make public colleges and universities, as well as private Historically Black Colleges and Universities, tuition-free for students coming from families making less than $125,000 annually. Additionally, he would make community colleges tuition-free for all students, regardless of income.

The Georgetown report estimates that Biden’s plan would cost $49.6 billion in its first year, with $33.1 billion of that from the federal government and the rest from states. If the income limit did not exist, that would increase the cost $8.6 billion. After ten years, it is estimated that due to increased enrollment in public higher education the cost of Biden’s plan would also increase.

However, the report also estimates that the plan would bring in tax money. Because eliminating tuition would increase college attainment there would be “substantial societal benefits,” with an estimated $371.4 billion in federal and state tax revenue. Additionally, Biden’s plan would yield an additional $866.7 billion in private after-tax earnings gains. In fact, the estimates show that the benefits far outweigh the costs of making tuition free.

This should come as no surprise though. College graduates earn more, on average, and therefore pay more in taxes. Previous research estimated that increasing the number of college graduates by just 107,400 in one year alone would yield an increase of more than $90 billion in tax revenue over their lifetimes. College graduates are also less likely be unemployed, less likely to live in poverty, and live longer on average.

If Joe Biden is elected, it’s not clear where his free college plan will fall in his priorities. While some may have opposed this plan previously based on its cost, this new evidence could make them more open to the idea. And as the coronavirus wrecks the economy, a college degree will be all the more important when the economy recovers.

This should come as no surprise though. College graduates earn more, on average, and therefore pay more in taxes. Previous research estimated that increasing the number of college graduates by just 107,400 in one year alone would yield an increase of more than $90 billion in tax revenue over their lifetimes. College graduates are also less likely be unemployed, less likely to live in poverty, and live longer on average.

If Joe Biden is elected, it’s not clear where his free college plan will fall in his priorities. While some may have opposed this plan previously based on its cost, this new evidence could make them more open to the idea. And as the coronavirus wrecks the economy, a college degree will be all the more important when the economy recovers.


Related Readings:

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’s Plan For Student Debt

The Benefits Of Free College

How For-Profit Colleges Might Fare Under Joe Biden And Kamala Harris


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