My big problem with the various plans for free college and university educations is that it starts from the wrong place. Public colleges and universities are run by states, not by the federal government, with a minute number of exceptions. The real problem is that states aren’t committing enough resources to their state colleges and universities. We have had a two generation long process of disinvestment where the deficit is made up by making students pay for a rising portion of their education in loans. Subsidizing these institutions from the federal level just equates to none of the funding or price discipline that is needed at the state level. States need to raise and spend way, way more on higher education for residents in their states.
Now New Mexico is planning to do just that. A new initiative from the state’s Democratic governor Michelle Lujan Grisham would commit the state to making all public colleges and universities tuition free for residents. Full stop. No exceptions.
The problem of course is that student debt crisis and national disinvestment in public education is a national problem. And it tends to pit states against each other. So it’s very hard to confront in 50 separate state governments. This is especially the case since students can often become residents pretty quickly once they begin attending a university.
Still, this is the solution. I’m not sure it’s even necessary for state universities to be literally tuition free. Tuition can simply be at a very low level. But this is the real and I suspect only way to accomplish this goal. States needs to invest a lot more in public higher education.