Earlier this month, New York became the first US state to offer all but its wealthiest residents free tuition not only at its public community colleges, but also at public four-year institutions within the state. The new program, called the Excelsior Scholarship, doesn’t make college completely free, nor is it without significant restrictions. Still, the passage of this legislation demonstrates the growing strength of the free college movement in the United States. This report examines the consequences of ending free college in England and considers what lessons may be drawn for the US policy conversation. The authors investigate the question of whether restructuring of higher education finance over the last 20 years has led the English system backwards or forwards in terms of improving quality, quantity, and equity in higher education.
The English experience suggests that making college free is hardly the only way to increase quantity, quality, and equity in higher education. Indeed, the story we tell here shows how a free system can eventually stand in the way of these goals. Rather than looking to emulate the English model of the 1990s, the U.S. might instead consider emulating some key features of the modern English system that have helped moderate the impact of rising tuition, such as deferring all tuition fees until after graduation, increasing liquidity available to students to cover living expenses, and automatically enrolling all graduates in an income-contingent loan repayment system that minimizes both paperwork hassle and the risk of default.
Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story at Lessons from the end of free college in England | Brookings Institution