BackgroundKevin Carey’s “The Trouble with Hillary Clinton’s Free Tuition Plan” appeared in the New York Times on July 19, 2016. Carey’s writing on this subject is significant because he serves as the director or the Education Policy Program at the influential New America Think Tank. Carey’s writing is also worth reading, because he has lectured on education policy at Johns Hopkins University and was the Assistant State Budget Director for Education in Indiana.

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In this article, Carey addresses the feasibility of creating a free tuition system in America. This subject is particularly important because Hillary Clinton, one of the two major contenders for United States president has proposed making tuition free for students whose parents earn less than $125,000 a year. This could affect the country’s budget, debt and rates of taxation. It also has the potential to affect the worth of college degrees and the finances of different states. Because making college tuition free has the potential to affect the well-being of every American, it is important for Americans to understand how feasible such a program is and how it might change their lives.

Carey argues that Clinton’s plan for free tuition s infeasible. He suggests that if Clinton were to present a plan that would allow students to send their bills to government for it to pay that colleges would bump up their tuition rates. This, he says, could create an unsustainable financial burden on the country. He also suggests that if Clinton were to promise to subsidize tuition only at the current prices, she would penalize states which had provided for the most education spending and reward states which spent too little on education. He argues that if Clinton were to implement a plan which would provide the same subsidy to each student based on a formula which would take into account income, poverty levels in certain areas that certain states would still have difficulties charging $0 for tuition and would force states that have often been reluctant to raise taxes to have to raise them in order to subsidize tuition enough to make it free. This would, he says, cause some states to opt out of the program.

Carey suggests that instead of trying to create an entirely free college system that Clinton should return to the policies that she supported before the election. These policies, he says, would allow states to administer grants to colleges which reduce their tuition costs, so that students could pay for their educations without assuming debt.

Carey speaks in plain language and does not define any keywords or technical terms. His presentation of the topic is even-handed. While he finds Clinton’s plan unfeasible, he does not attack her personally. Instead, he suggests that some of the plans she supported in the past would work well. He points out the specific flaws in Clinton’s proposal and offers an alternative. His information seems sound. He points out the differences in tuition costs in Wyoming, New Hampshire and Alaska and explains why these differences would matter if the government were to subsidize each equally.

This article has many strengths. Carey explains the possible problems which could arise if Clinton were to create a free tuition system. He makes these problems easy to understand and his information seems credible, as he speaks from his own knowledge and experience in the world of education policy. He does not seem particularly biased. His organization is non-partisan and non-profit. He offers Clinton praise as well as criticism. Yet he does omit some information which would be useful. He does not, for instance, explain that the problem with Clinton’s plan is that driving tuition costs higher might adversely affect the very people it was designed to help. Taxpayers would have to foot the bill when universities raised the cost of tuition in response to government subsidies. This would mean higher taxation for some and could mean lower wages or lost jobs for others as employers, taxed more, looked for ways to cut their costs. Carey does not mention these things.

Nevertheless, Carey’s article is largely unbiased, lacks distortion and is not at all sensational. It is far less biased than many of the other articles that have been written on the same topic. For instance, Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe, declared unequivocally that “Making college ‘free’ will only make it worse.” Jacoby denounced the idea of free tuition as a fantasy akin to a belief in Santa Clause or time travel. Other writers, like NBC’s Martha C. White emphasized the fact that two-thirds of Americans have a favorable opinion of free tuition, but largely ignored the problems with costs and sustainability Carey mentions. Some articles contradicted Carey’s claim of infeasibility. They suggested that schools could opt into the tuition free system, but could continue to raise extra money though out-of-state premiums or by charging more for room and board. The fact that Carey provides both praise and criticism for the program – and that he explains why he believes that Clinton’s program would not work – makes his article more useful than many other articles, which simply aim to criticize or support Clinton as a candidate. The most impressive aspect of Carey’s article is its simplicity. Carey’s straightforward language makes it very easy to follow his arguments and to understand the complexities of creating a free tuition system. Although I originally found the idea of free college tuition attractive, I had not realized that schools might be tempted to raise their tuition prices exorbitantly in response and could make such a system hard for the economy to support.

Carey’s simple, straightforward language, along with his relative lack of bias and his ability to explain both the pros and cons of ideas in a rational manner make his observations about Clinton’s tuition-free college plan well worth reading. His reliance on facts rather than personal attacks or idol worship make his article far more useful than many of the partisan articles written on the same subject.

  • Jacoby, J. (2016, July 13). Making college ‘free’ will only make it worse. Retrieved from Boston Globe:
  • Kamanetz, A. (2016, July 28). Clinton’s Free-Tuition Promise: What Would It Cost? How Would It Work? Retrieved from NPR:
  • New America. (2016, June). Kevin Carey: Director, Education Policy Program. Retrieved from New America:
  • White, M. C. (2016, August 1). Two-Thirds of Americans Support Free College Tuition. Retrieved from NBC: