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Proposals coming from the new crop of Democratic presidential candidates are starting to make Hillary Clinton and former President Barack Obama look downright conservative by comparison.

Take for instance the slew of “free stuff” Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren keeps saluting. By soaking the rich with taxes, Warren is advocating universal childcare, Medicare for all and the Green New Deal.

And now she is promising to forgive the vast majority of student loan debt and make public college tuition free for everyone.

Warren is going out of her way to “out Bernie” her primary competitor Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who first brought many of these extreme, socialist ideas to the forefront when he was in the running for president in 2016.

She is now backing a plan that would cancel up to $50,000 in student loan debt for 42 million Americans and free public college for everyone, according to her campaign website.

This new entitlement for all income levels would cost a meager $1.25 trillion over 10 years, according to initial estimates.

While Warren is trying desperately to score points with younger voters, her college handouts are problematic on several levels beyond the price tag.

The burden of student debt is real, as are the skyrocketing costs of college. But what Democrats refuse to acknowledge is the correlation between the easy access to federal loans and grants to tuition hikes. Plenty of studies have shown that as the government directs more to student aid, colleges and universities raise costs since they know students can borrow enough to pay for it. This has led to administrative bloat and expensive campus projects — and little to reduce the weight on students’ wallets.

Throwing more money at this system won’t magically reduce costs. Rather, it would exacerbate the problem long term.

Another shortfall is the impact the proposal would have on private colleges. In Michigan, 25% of college students attend private, not-for-profit institutions.

Mandating free public tuition would inevitably kill a lot of this competition in the higher ed realm.

“It will pull students from our sector to theirs,” says Robert LeFevre, president of Michigan Independent Colleges & Universities. And Michigan colleges are already facing declining enrollment, as families have moved out of state and are having fewer children.

It could also lead to higher dropout rates as students would choose the college that’s cheap rather than looking for a program that best suits their interests and goals.

Warren claims to want our public university system to mirror the K-12 system. A heavy top-down federal approach to higher education, however, would undermine the autonomy that has led to the U.S. having one of the most respected university systems in the world.

Such alluring promises as free college from presidential hopefuls may make for great sound bites but most of them carry damaging consequences.

ijacques@detroitnews.com 

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