A key component of the progressive agenda is the call for tuition-free higher education at public colleges and universities.
It is something many opponents argue is infeasible, despite the fact that at one time several prominent American colleges used to be free or required very low, affordable tuition.
To those who claim the concept of tuition-free college is unrealistic, we can now refer them to one of the country’s most revered medical schools that last week announced it would cover all its students’ tuition regardless of merit or necessity.
Citing “overwhelming financial debt” facing graduates, New York University (NYU) Langone School of Medicine will immediately pay all current and future students’ tuition, roughly $55,000 annually.
It will not defray room and board, however, which are, on average, $27,000.
About the university’s bold decision, Robert I. Grossman, medical school dean and chief executive officer of NYU Langone Health, stated:
“This decision recognizes a moral imperative that must be addressed, as institutions place an increasing debt burden on young people who aspire to become physicians.”
He added via video announcement:
“I’m proud to announce that as of right now, every student that we admit to New York University School of Medicine comes tuition-free. And this includes the incoming class and the upperclassmen as well that are here right now — no more tuition.”
Some will inevitably ask how NYU plans on footing such an expense.
The university has raised more than $450 million of the $600 million it anticipates necessary, for which Kenneth G. Langone, Home Depot founder, and his wife, Elaine, for whom the medical school is named, are responsible for approximately $100 million.
About 62 percent of NYU’s School of Medicine graduates exit with debt; the average among members of the class of 2017 was $184,000.
Kenneth G. Langone explained how the university’s new policy will help create better physicians because students will enter medicine without the additional burden of crippling debt.
“They walk out of here unencumbered, looking at a future where they can do what their passion tells them, which is to help people live better quality lives.”
UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine announced several years ago a $100 million fund to pay all four years, including tuition, fees, books, and living expenses for 20 percent of its medical school students. Unlike NYU, though, that policy is based on merit, not need.
Former Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo (D), proposed two tuition-free years at community colleges or public universities in her state. Under her proposal, students would have the choice of two years of free community college or a tuition waiver for their last two years at four-year institutions.
Some states, like Tennessee, have initiated plans to pay tuition, primarily at two-year community colleges, for high school graduates.
Former New York City Mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg, funded the American Talent Initiative to provide greater access to prestigious colleges to low-income students.
As same-sex marriage was finally acknowledged at the federal level because several states set the precedent, and marijuana legalization stances soften all over the country, NYU’s policy is a bellwether for a future in which students are able to acquire the higher education we expect and encourage without condemning themselves to decades–sometimes lifetimes–of insurmountable debt.
One of the issues that made the presidential candidacy of Sen. Bernie Sanders so appealing in 2016 was his call for free college tuition to public colleges and universities. Many argued that “liberal fantasy” was dead the day Trump won the White House.
But the Democrats took advantage of Sanders’ campaign popularity and drafted the College-for-All plan, which would make public colleges and universities tuition-free to students with family incomes up to $125,000, make community colleges completely tuition free, slash student loan interest rates in half, and triple funding for the Federal Work-Study program.
Breana Ross, president of the United States Student Association, said:
“We believe that education is a right and not a commodity.”
At a time when the phrase “create jobs” has become somewhat of a cliched Republican mantra, Sen. Sanders insists national competitiveness rests in our ability to achieve higher education.
“Our economy will not survive in the future unless we have the best-educated work force in the world. Our job, if we are smart, is to do everything possible to make it easier for people to pay for their education — not harder.”
The American Association of State Colleges and Universities said in a statement that state disinvestment in higher education has transferred tuition costs to families and students, who then have no choice but to take out loans to attend even low-cost public colleges. The statement went on to say:
“[Sanders’s proposal is] one of the most effective mechanisms to incentivize states to partner with the federal government and to make higher education available to all students, regardless of families’ limited financial means.”
It’s time we join other developed nations in ensuring education is affordable and accessible instead of cutting off the means by which millions have traditionally lifted themselves into more prosperous and fulfilling lives.
We cannot expect Americans to achieve that oft-cited “American Dream” if we perpetuate a system in which the most effective means of achieving it is denied for all but the affluent.
It’s a matter of values as well economics.
Image credit: WRGB