Hillary Clinton thinks she has touched a populist nerve with the American middle class with her $350 billion ten year plan to make college more affordable.  And in some ways she has. I’ve long argued as the father of two college kids that the biggest scam in America is how much colleges are charging families for a diploma. 

She’s right that colleges are unaccountable, lack transparency and are often overpriced.  "College is supposed to help people achieve their dreams, but more and more paying for college actually pushes those dreams further and further out of reach," Clinton declared.  "That is a betrayal of everything college is supposed to represents."

 

There are now dozens of colleges this year that charge more than $50,000 a year in room, board and tuition. That is a betrayal. College tuition costs have gone up faster than the costs of health care and even housing over the past 20 years, during a digital era when education costs should be falling.   

But Hillary’s plan would only make the crisis worse by having the taxpayers foot even a larger share of the cost of tuition. She wouldn’t make it free, but only a small fraction of college cost would be borne by the students and families. This third party payer system is what has caused the spiral of inflation in tuitions in the first place. 

Here’s what Hillary doesn’t get: college tuitions rise when families don’t pay the tab. We know this from Pell Grants. As the size of the grants rise, so do the tuitions the colleges charge.

Her plan would provide dollars to states that agree to provide "no-loan tuition at four-year public colleges and universities." States that agree, under the Clinton plan, will win multi-billion dollar grants from the federal government. She also want to make community college free. But states already have constrained budgets and bribing them to spend more money on higher education, when they are having trouble paying their existing bills and balancing their budgets seems a gross misallocation of resources. 

Here’s what Hillary doesn’t get: college tuitions rise when families don’t pay the tab. We know this from Pell Grants. As the size of the grants rise, so do the tuitions the colleges charge. 

The fundamental problem is that most universities are charging about double what they should. No one wants to look under the hood of the Ivory Towers and find out where money is being wasted.  It’s called accountability and that is what is lacking at most universities.  If state schools are getting a bigger wad of cash from the federal government through the states, their costs and extravagancies will rise, not fall.

Even worse is that Hillary wants to pay for this transfer to the universities by taxing the rich.  (This is on top of her plan to raise the capital gains tax to 43 percent.) But the rich already pay 40 percent of the income tax and since these taxes will mostly be collected from business owners, this will mean fewer jobs available for the students when they graduate.

A better way for colleges to become more affordable is to start forcing universities with multibillion dollar endowments – Harvard and Yale are at or above $20 billion – to use the money to lower tuition costs to students.  There are dozens of colleges that could pay 80 percent of the tuition out of their endowments and not run out of money over many decades if ever. 

What is wrong, by the way, with asking 19 to 22-year-olds to work at least 10-25 hours a week to help pay for their own education. They’d probably get more out of their classroom experiences if they had to foot some of the bill.

Many colleges do this already.  College of the Ozarks provides free tuition for kids who work and many of the kids learn at least as much on the job as they do in the classroom. 

It’s a good bet that if the Clinton plan were implemented, colleges would respond to the rush of money by raising tuition even further. The days of the $100,000 a year universities would be right around the corner. 

Someone needs to tell Hillary that just as there’s no such thing as a free lunch.  There’s no such thing as a free college education. Someone has to pay the tab. 

Stephen Moore is a Fox News contributor. Moore is the Distinguished Visiting Fellow, Project for Economic Growth, at The Heritage Foundation. He is also an economic consultant with Freedom Works. Prior to joining Heritage he wrote on the economy and public policy for The Wall Street Journal.