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Friday, March 25, 2016

OP-ED - Sen. Wil Schroder: Free College Isn't Free

Wil Schroder (R-Wilder) represents Campbell, Pendleton and Bracken Counties. LRC. 
By Wil Schroder

Free college education is a very popular talking point in the current campaign for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States. This policy idea made its way into Kentucky this month when the Kentucky House of Representatives passed House Bill 626, which gives all students who graduate from Kentucky high schools the ability to attend community colleges for free.

The bill passed by the House requires students to apply for all available aid and, once the student was admitted, the state would pay the difference in tuition for two years.  The current projected cost of the program is about $20 million a year. The problem is that $20 million is just the beginning. Free college is not free. Webster’s Dictionary defines “free” as being “without charge.” The bill passed by the House most certainly is not “without charge.” This bill simply shifts the costs from students to taxpayers all around Kentucky.

Kentucky is not the first state to propose providing free community college education to graduates. California has the cheapest community college tuition in the nation. The state provided free tuition and during the recession, California’s budget took a serious hit. By the end of 2009, community colleges turned away more than 600,000 individuals due to the inability to raise revenue.

I question what this would do to the number of students who attend community college.  Could you in good faith encourage a high school student to start their college career at a university when they could begin at a community college for free and then transfer after two years? Furthermore, what message would House Bill 626 send to the numerous students who work hard to pay their way through college or decided that receiving an education would be worth the burden of student loans?

Instead of focusing on spending our limited resources on providing college to everyone, the Kentucky General Assembly should focus on ensuring that our current college students are receiving the best education they can.  One way to do this is for the state to adopt an outcomes-based funding model that would reward successful schools. Currently, the Commonwealth spends nearly $1 billion annually on universities without taking into account a school’s performance.  Thirty-seven other states already use an outcomes-based funding model, including six of our neighboring states.  It is time that universities in Kentucky are also held accountable for the performance of their students.

House Bill 626 is bad for students, bad for universities, and bad for Kentuckians. When it comes to college and students truly receiving the best bang for their buck, let’s keep the conversation focused on outcomes-based funding.


  1. $20 million to encourage and enable our youth to attend community college out of a $1B higher education budget? Seems like a great investment in education, which is why it passed the house 86-11 with just a few Republicans against it. Better education leads to better jobs and less crime.

  2. $20M out of a $1B higher education budget to enable our youth to attend community college and better themselves and their futures? Seems like a great idea which is why it passed the House 86-11, with only a handful of Republicans opposed. Better education equals better jobs and less crime.

  3. $20M to encourage and enable our youth to better themselves and their futures out of a $1B higher education budget? This bill is a great investment in Kentucky's youth, which is why it passed the House 86-11, with just a few Republicans voting against it. Better education means better jobs and less crime.

  4. "Free" elementary and secondary education isn't "free", either, but nobody suggests that we do away with it.

    Add in police and fire protection, etc, etc. It's a specious argument to use semantics against the idea of "free" community college tuition.

    The point about flooding community colleges with students who would otherwise attend 4-year institutions is a good one, however.

  5. Businesses are more likely to invest in a state with an educated labor pool. Wil Shroder is being short-sighted in thinking we need to invest more heavily in the.larger universities at the expense of community colleges when need to make both more affordable and more accessible.

    In a time of increasing income inequality, education is the great social and economic equalizer. One would think a young, professional Republican like Shroder would appreciate giving folks a hand up instead of a handout.

    The economy in the 24th District may be doing well, but much of the rest of the state is suffering. Not everyone can attemd UK. These areas are well-served by our community colleges and deserve deep support.