Will “Free” Tuition Make College Cost More?

CascadeNewLogoBy Thomas Tullis

On July 17, Governor Kate Brown signed Senate Bill 81, the “Oregon Promise” legislation that allocates $10 million to a “free” community college tuition program for Oregon students. With college tuition having increased ten-fold over the last three decades, Oregon lawmakers clearly have good intentions, but that doesn’t make the Oregon Promise legislation good policy. Unfortunately, Oregon Promise will do little to solve the problem of tuition affordability. In the long run, it could actually cause education costs for students to increase because government-subsidized tuition is a major reason why tuition costs are so high in the first place.

Essentially, “free” education actually ends up costing more. It doesn’t just affect the student directly. Tuition costs don’t go down; instead, it only diverts the cost from the student to the taxpayers. Rather than making college more affordable, Oregon Promise will encourage colleges to increase tuition. Government loans and grants enable a guaranteed demand for services that ensures colleges can raise tuition and increase their spending. The government even admits to these unintended consequences with a recent Federal Reserve study that showed that government grants and loans have caused a 65% increase in tuition.

With Oregon boasting the lowest high school graduation rates in the country, lawmakers should focus on allowing a free market to exist for education providers to compete on quality and price. The real solution to tuition affordability would be freeing the education market from government intrusion.

Thomas Tullis is a research associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market think tank. He is a student at the University of Oregon, where he is studying Journalism and Political Science.

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Posted by at 05:00 | Posted in Education, Gov. Kate Brown, Government Spending, OR 78th Legislative Session, Oregon Government, State Budget, State Government, State Taxes, Taxes | Tagged , , , , , | 10 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • Bob Clark

    $10 million for a whole state program offering free college tuition should tell the electorate this isn’t what it purports and it is mostly for the politicians to pitch themselves as having brought free college to all Oregon students. Even if it were true, college should be at least a more shared sacrifice between the student and taxpayers. Otherwise, just having the taxpayer pickup the whole tab encourages less focus on development of job skills which allow the college student to eventually work and support themselves. (the bar for getting free tuition is set pretty low for academic achievement, and in fact, encourages taking less onerous courses to raise one’s grade point average.)

    Then too, in the not too distant future the U.S. is going to have to make some choices for scarcity of resources, as the Congressional Budget Office is forecasting a surge in the U.S government budget deficit to nearly $1 trillion from current $500 billion. Medicare is a big part of this projected federal deficit. This will effect Oregon state government too, as the federal government will be looking to shift more of the medicare burden to the states.

    One of the problems with socialism is you eventually run out of other peoples’ monies, to borrow on a quote from Margaret Thatcher.

  • Carol

    I am thinking of moving to Norway, as college there is free! What a bunch of losers we are in a country this wealthy to charge people like me, who have nothing, tuition so I can better myself. I have had it.
    There is no way I can come up with the estimated 78K it will cost for me to become an art historian. No way.

    • unemotional

      Norway may be a good match for you. It’s much more homogeneously “white” than the US. You can join the increasingly popular, anti muslim Progress Party with stricter immigration standards and help keep Norway superior. But beware. There is a growing discontentment toward those who just want the free stuff and not be engaged in the work force.

    • Myke


  • MrBill

    The problem with spending other peoples money on people other than yourself is that it’s usually spent poorly. Students themselves should be responsible for funding their college educations. They’ll be more judicious with their own money than with someone else’s.

    Also, if you’re a HS grad wondering what to do with your life, you should consider that there are lots of occupations, that don’t require a BS or BA, that might be a better fit for you. There are a lot of really bright, successful people out there who never got much formal education beyond HS. Having that higher degree is no guarantee of success in life.

    • Uproar

      e,g,, Harry Truman, Scott Walker – both bucks stopping nonsense whenever the *ucket spillage sullies the base floor of common sense.

  • wfecht


    nice article. your link is very poor in that it does not support your argument. It links to another article that argues against your premise. You should have linked the article directly to the Fed Reserve study. Here
    supporting facts are necessary to a free market journalist. not opinion, in establishing credibility. I agree with you opinion. further research is needed to support it. I suggest you go back and find the link to increased government spending on higher education, including direct grants to schools (research) not just the student funding. taxpayer money is never wisely spent and the lost (unseen) benefits of spending by the owner of the money (buyer) rarely considered. Get yourself educated in free market thinking, Mises.org is one source. attend the Mises university online. its cheap. read other free market economists and proffesors such as Thomas Sowell (Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. His Web site is http://www.tsowell.com. ), Gary North (teaparteconomist .com is his free website). my free advice is to quit school and study and write on your own. get a major in something else more useful (outside the liberal academia where you are currently enrolled)

  • Thor Bikini Upperendum

    Answer to the blog intonation: Undoubtedly!
    Next sup, how much more nipples and teats can US a fjord in a no way cost affordable intonation?
    Answ: Not, nils, or whatever with all the svedes in cedes chasing such tales ad infinite comprehension .

  • Betsy

    I am currently in my 7th year of college at PSU. Without aid I could never complete my degree and become a tax-paying productive member of society. So, we must do what we can to reduce the cost of education. By the time I complete my BA degree I will have spent (borrowed) some $112,000. My first priority will be to get a good job (should not be too hard as I am majoring in interpretive art criticism) and then begin making payments on my loans.
    This fool who wants to move to Norway…I say, go ahead. We cannot make the US better just by leaving…on second thought, maybe we can….

  • Jack Lord God

    The only thing more predictable than “unintended consequences” working out exactly as predicted – is the use of the term interchangeably with “negligence”.

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