College Debt

Democrats Love To Promise Free College, So Why Did the U.K. Recently Start Charging Tuition?

When Britain reversed its free college program and asked its citizens to foot a portion of their college bill, more working class people got degrees.

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It's not easy keeping track of exactly who has promised what to whom in the race for the Democratic nomination. Two of the most prominent candidates, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.), have made "free" college and student debt forgiveness central pillars of their presidential bids. 

But the U.K. has moved in the opposite direction, with astonishing results. After nearly 40 years of offering free college, starting in 1998 students in England were asked to pay about $1,200 per year. Since then, tuition has risen to $11,000 per year. Students in England now leave college with around $60,000 of debt on average. A government-backed loan scheme means graduates only start repaying that debt once they are earning more than $30,000. Any debt that remains after 30 years is forgiven altogether. (The Scottish government has devolved power in this area and operates a different system.)

Yet today the number of university students from poor backgrounds is larger than it has ever been. The story of why the British government opted to end a policy similar to those proposed by leading Democrats—and what has happened to higher education in the U.K. since—is instructive for the American debate. 

The case for free college is simple enough: higher education should be for the many, not the few. In the U.S., today's eye-watering costs prevent that from being the case. Sanders called it "a national disgrace" that many Americans don't attend college "not because they are unqualified, but because they cannot afford it." Counterintuitive though it might seem, a desire to broaden access and increase the number of young Brits in college was exactly why the U.K. opted for the opposite course from the one Sanders is proposing.

Before the introduction of tuition fees, government resources could not keep up with increased demand for university education. Per-student funding dropped by 40 percent in the last two decades of the tuition-free system. In order to keep costs under control, the government spent less per student and rationed the number of spots available. But costs continued to balloon. What's worse, students from better-off backgrounds were more likely to grab one of the limited number of spots, so it was students from poor backgrounds who suffered, with the gap in degree attainment between rich and poor widening.

Britain faced a choice: an elitist university system in which the state subsidized the education of a select few who managed to perform well on high-stakes tests, or giving many more people the opportunity to earn a university degree by shifting part of the financial burden from the state to the individual; it opted for the latter. 

Today, students pick up the bill for, on average, around 65 percent of the cost of the education they receive, with taxpayers plugging the gap. More students are enrolled than ever before and those students benefit from more per-student funding than the generations that paid nothing for college. 

Democratic presidential hopefuls say they want to get more students from poor backgrounds enrolled in college. In the U.K., the best way to do that was by charging, not by making college free. In the last decade, the number of 18-year-olds from "low participation"––poor––neighborhoods going to college has increased by 75 percent. And over that period of time, funding per student has risen by a quarter. There have never been more young Brits who qualify for free school meals going to college. 

As in America, the question of how to fund higher education in Britain is far from settled. Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the left-wing Labour Party, backed the abolition of tuition fees at the last election. A recent government review of the system proposed a series of modest reforms to address concerns over the current system. One concern centers around the affordability of the current system, given that the government can't know with any certainty how much of the tab it will have to pick up. A report published earlier this year by the London-based conservative think tank Onward forecast that just 17 percent of graduates will fully pay back their loans.

There are persuasive principled objections to taxpayer-funded college. If the individual accrues the lion's share of the benefits of a college degree, why shouldn't he or she bear the cost? Asking taxpayers to fund universal free tuition means asking, for example, a farm worker who earns the minimum wage to pay for the education of a student from a wealthy household en route to a high-flying career in law or finance. You don't need to be an avowed free marketeer to see the problem here; none other than Karl Marx raised a similar objection when he said "If higher education institutions are also free that only means in fact defraying the cost of education of the bourgeoisie from the general tax receipts." 

But let's assume that those problems aren't fatal to the case for free college. The problem for the likes of Sanders and Warren is that they cannot escape the affordability dilemma that makes it very hard for free college to live up to its promise. Either other public spending priorities face the squeeze to fund universities, or the number of spots available at publicly funded schools must be capped. 

In other words, students paying their own way need not be a barrier to achieving the stated aims of the tuition abolitionists. Sanders and Warren use "free education" and "universal education" interchangeably. The U.K. story is a reminder that that often those aspirations aren't complimentary, but contradictory. 

NEXT: America's Roads Are Getting Bumpier and More Dangerous

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  1. Higher education should not be free. I support enabling students to pay for higher education with a percentage of income over decades; with public service; and with wages from work-study positions. Percentages charged could differ with respect to accredited schools of differing nature and quality.

    1. Lol you just descibed how it’s done here in the US now you fucking rube.

      1. I see that sarcasm is once again lost on the humorless.

        1. Or maybe it was lost on you, because we all know he’s a parody you stupid lying fuck lollop

          1. (You can tell he’s processing how stupid he looks now, and will run away because he’s embarrassed)

            1. (and now he’s composing an email to the webmaster to have people censored because he stupidly didn’t get the sarcasm)

              1. I am making 10,000 Dollar at home own laptop .Just do work online 4 to 6 hour proparly . so i make my family happy and u can do

                …….. Read More

              2. Haha! To think that Reason.com actually might have a webmaster!

                Dear webkeep,

                Canst thou do thine duty in banishing the Reverend, the Hihnswarm, and the Plugger of Butts beyond the furthest reaches of this electronic realm?

                Yours in good faith,
                A concerned webizen of Reasonia

              3. Deep seated issues, I see.

      2. You misunderstand the current system.

        1. You misunderstand everything. Often on purpose…

        2. Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland
          August.22.2019 at 3:48 pm
          “You misunderstand the current system.”

          Which is rich coming from the asshole bigot who doesn’t ‘understand’ the time of day.

          1. Open wider, clinger.

            Unless you plan to start winning the culture war any time soon (and finally get a chance to stop complying like a good boy with the preferences of your betters).

            1. Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland
              August.22.2019 at 6:30 pm
              “Open wider, clinger.”

              Flap them jaws, asshole bigot! Jamming Trump down your throat one more time is going to be fun.
              BTW, for a supposed supporter of ‘liberalism’, you are abysmally uneducated regarding you’re claimed ‘march of progress’.
              For pete’s sake at least read Judt’s “Post War” for the admission of a lefty, unlike you, is honest enough to admit the failures of Fabian socialism.And, if you’d really like to learn something, try Applebaum’s “Iron Curtain”
              Even a fucking ignoramus such as you *might* learn something…

    2. Kirkland: you’re just a troll. Go jerk off to Kamala Harris campaign videos.

  2. Even Marx was opposed to free college? Huh. So Warren and Sanders are even more Marxist than Marx.

    1. And you’re an idiot who doesn’t understand statistics but makes sockpuppets to argue that you do. You fucked up and I caught you.

      1. Poor Tulpa the mentally challenged.

        1. That must be embarrassing, losing a debate about stats to someone who is mentally challenged, then making a, so k and losing again, then cying and running away.

          Honest Chemleff “I don’t want to talk you because you make me look bad, unless you make me look like a total idiot, the I prove I’m a liar, drop a cunty reply, and run away like a bitch again”

          1. By the way, I love how you forgot which handle you used and outed your sock. That was fucking amateur hour lololol

            1. Which sock? I gave up talking to Jeff earlier when he used the definition of baseless assertion to try and prove his assertions weren’t baseless instead of providing the base for his assumptions.

            2. Ouch. New study released today showing Jeff is an even bigger dumbfuck trying to say illegal immigrants do not commit more federal crimes.

              https://www.dailywire.com/news/50939/doj-2018-non-citizens-7-population-accounted-15-hank-berrien

              Study accounted for immigration crimes.

              1. This was the exact same set of statistics that Milo linked to this morning. You’re a few hours too late.

                trying to say illegal immigrants do not commit more federal crimes.

                That was never my claim. Here, let me see if I can explain it to you in terms you might be able to understand, without using evidently complex jargon like “selection bias”, with an example.

                Suppose Alice is a citizen, Bob is an immigrant, Alice and Bob each rob two separate banks, and are caught.

                Because Alice is a citizen, then Alice is prosecuted under her state’s laws against theft. There is normally no reason for the feds to get involved. Perhaps the feds might, if there were some extraordinary circumstances. But usually, it would be a state level matter for prosecution.

                But while Bob *could* be charged under his state’s laws against theft, since Bob is an immigrant, Bob’s residency status is also in jeopardy, and so the feds *must* get involved. So there is a greater chance that the feds will prosecute Bob for theft along with whatever immigration violations he may have committed at the same time.

                So if I wanted to know statistics about bank robberies, and I only looked at data from the feds, I would come away with a very skewed perception – I would be more likely to see a record of the feds prosecuting Bob, but I would be very unlikely to see a record of the feds prosecuting Alice. If, based on this data, I were to conclude “immigrants are more prone to rob banks than citizens”, it would be an invalid conclusion.

                Hope this makes more sense.

                1. I really don’t think sense matters to Tulpa. He’s just got a bad case of the fuckarounds. Jesse might be aite though

      2. Hello, I’m a sock.

        Just like Tulpa is for JesseAZ

    2. Richard Marx hardest hit.

      1. Should’ve known better.

  3. Refuse loan guarantees to students of colleges where more than 15% of the total staff is NOT in an active classroom teaching position. (allow outsourcing for custodial care and construction, nothing else)

    1. Reasoning Americans never should have begun to accredit schools that teach nonsense (such as ‘fairy tales are true’).

      Perhaps, if we are fortunate, the backlash against slack-jawed malcontents will reverse that poor decision.

      1. Reasoning Americans never should have begun to accredit schools that teach nonsense (such as ‘fairy tales are true’).

        Only omniscient schools get accreditation. Silly fairy tales like humors, phlogiston, Lamarckism, New Math, peak oil, selfish genes, and green energy get schools stripped of their accreditation.

        You’ll give those backwater hick Republicans what for!

        1. Unless you contend a school that teaches that the moon is made of green cheese, or that storks deliver babies, should be accredited, there is no reasoned argument for accredited schools that suppress science to flatter superstition by teaching creationism.

          Carry on, clingers.

          1. Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland
            August.22.2019 at 5:00 pm
            “Carry on, clingers.”

            Continue to make as asshole of yourself, bigot.

      2. “Reasoning Americans never should have begun to accredit schools that teach nonsense (such as ‘fairy tales are true’).”

        Good-bye gender studies courses.
        Good-bye ethnic studies courses.
        Good-bye anthropology courses.
        Good-bye any economics course taught by a Marxist.

      3. Would that include law schools that have people like Bruce Hay on the faculty? Talk about believing in fairy tales…

      4. All your favored Ivy schools would be barred for teaching social justice and gender fluidity.

  4. >> Why Did the U.K. Recently Start Charging Tuition?
    Blame it on Brexit. An enlightened and progressive Britain would have kept it free. But the same Russians that forced Trump on the US also forced Brexit on England.

    1. Why did you lie about getting pulled over for 56 in a 55?

      1. I didn’t lie. it was a revenue trap. Back in 81.

  5. The money shot:


    In order to keep costs under control, the government spent less per student and rationed the number of spots available.

    When they say ‘free for all’ they really mean ‘free for some, none for the rest’. And, for what it’s worth, the same goes for ‘free’ health systems.

    1. TANSTAAFL

    2. You can ration by price or ration by political influence.

      1. Bingo. Prices are a rationing mechanism, and revenue allows for the production of more. Fix the prices and you get neither.

    3. Britain used to have “the Open University”, college classes taught/broadcasted on the state run tv stations. Dry as the Sahara, but they did make the fundamentals available.

    1. Older black voters tend to be more “pragmatic,” which translates to support for Biden, added Clemmie Harris, an assistant professor of American history and Africana studies at Utica College.

      Many black voters — and particularly older voters — “do not identify as being progressive,” said Harris, who added that Warren “has to figure out how to organically connect with black voters who don’t see themselves as progressive.”

      1. The important point is that most black voters recognize that the Republican Party is the party of vestigial bigots.

        1. As opposed to the fresh bigots in the Democratic party like you.

          1. ‘Democrats are the real bigots.’

            Yeah, that’s the ticket to turning the tide of the culture war for right-wingers.

            1. You’re the only one around here with sick fantasies about turning the tide of the culture wars so you can orally rape people.

            2. ‘Democrats are the real bigots.’

              Yep, gotta keep those blacks in welfare, otherwise they might nor vote D.
              You got it, asshole bigot.

      2. organically connect

        Despite her age, she probably still does secretly want to organically connect with large numbers of black voters.

  6. I see that the US doesn’t have a monopoly on hideous college architecture.

  7. “Free tuition” is nothing more than having the taxpayers cough up the money for other people attending.
    In the real world, we call free tuition a “lie,” (see the word “bullshit).
    That means someone is not telling the truth.
    But then again, the truth is hard to come by from the proggies.

    1. “Free Tuition” is taxing everyone to pay for the college education of the children of the middle and upper class.

      1. John, remember when the Dems claimed to oppose “regressive” taxes?

        Those were the days…

        “Sorry, white meth addict from Kentucky. My parents are doctors, sure, but they are ALSO black so your privilege should make you pay for my college education!”

  8. Yeah, free college is wrong on so many levels.
    – It represents the relatively poor subsidizing the relatively well-off
    – Those that receive the greatest benefit of a college education, the students themselves, should be the ones paying for it
    – It just invites far more meddling into the college curriculum than what already currently exists (which is already considerable)
    – It distorts the labor market to produce graduates with skills that are not necessarily as marketable as they would be otherwise
    – It creates an entitlement mentality among people that they *deserve* to go to college

    You don’t need to be a libertarian or even a conservative to find these arguments compelling.

    1. It also removes the natural incentive for colleges to innovate and sell a better product at a lower price.

      1. It’s “college acceptance”. They accept you, not the other way around broheim. You’ll take what they give you, you’ll pay the price they ask, and you’ll happy for it.

        1. You can’t read college words with normal definitions. “Financial aid” means “price negotiation”, “need blind” means “virtue signaling” and “admission” means “highly likely to fill beneficial quota”.

          1. “Need blind” simple means “best students” and not a school of “Kushners”. Why should an 18 year old be penalized for having poor parents?

    2. All wrong, student loans are stupid and if you take them out you are stupid. The true beneficiaries of student loans are the “grievance studies” professors that add no value to the American higher education system and only exist because of irresponsible student loans. Get rid of student loans and force colleges to use endowment funds for tuition for middle class students and you will see colleges streamline their degree offerings and focus on producing productive members of society that donate to their alma mater down the road.

      1. There is nothing wrong with student loans per se. Do you think only gender studies majors get student loans? Believe it or not, science and engineering students also get student loans. Furthermore not every university is blessed with a Harvard-level endowment.

        1. I think he’s confusing subsidized student loans with the idea of loans a student could take out. If the government no longer guaranteed loans, and people could default on loans later in life. Two things would happen.
          1.) Schools would get cheaper.
          2.) people with high earning potentials in the career field would still be able to find loans.

          1. An engineering degree from a state flagship is often just as valuable as an engineering degree from an Ivy League school. If you get into MIT or CalTech guess what?? You are super smart irrespective of getting a degree. Economics isn’t rocket science.

        2. I love people that defend BAs that are clueless about economics—money well spent on your BA! But seriously—the BA (outside Ivy League and equivalents) is a commodity and you don’t overpay for a COMMODITY unless it helps you win the Electoral College! Don’t take out loans for a BA from an expensive private college!!

          1. “” Don’t take out loans for a BA from an expensive private college!!”‘

            I agree.
            And if you do, don’t play the victim card later. It was your choice.

  9. So Why Did the U.K. Recently Start Charging Tuition?

    Because of Trump and #Brexit.

  10. I can see that sarcasm

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        1. With Lizzie Warren asking for his vote.

  11. Tuition is pretty stupid but the proper way to make college affordable is to get universities to use endowment funds for tuition for students from middle class families. So wealthy people are fine paying tuition so let them keep paying tuition while middle class families get a break and colleges get the best students and not the best students willing to take out student loans.

    1. Actually, the proper way to make college affordable is to dismantle the current ludicrous accredidation scheme and replace it with a logical one so that less expensive organizations like Khan Academy can compete with expensive degree mills like Ohio State…

  12. I stopped reading at “After nearly 40 years of offering free college, starting in 1998 students in England were asked to pay about $1,200 per year.”

    What a shit article.

    1. Pounds per year.

  13. I think the people attending college should pay some of the cost. However, when the baby boomers went to college, most boomers could work a summer job and pay for the next two semesters of education. That is not true now. Secondly, the US student loan system creates mounds of interest and if you have trouble paying, then add some penalties as well. So unless you have parents that can help you make payments or provide you free lodging while all of your money goes to students loans so you can pay them off quickly, you will quickly be in the hole financially and there is no universal debt forgiveness except for death.

    1. Olga
      August.22.2019 at 7:43 pm
      “…However, when the baby boomers went to college, most boomers could work a summer job and pay for the next two semesters of education. That is not true now.”
      That is *BECAUSE* of government largess.

      “Secondly, the US student loan system creates mounds of interest and if you have trouble paying, then add some penalties as well. So unless you have parents that can help you make payments or provide you free lodging while all of your money goes to students loans so you can pay them off quickly, you will quickly be in the hole financially and there is no universal debt forgiveness except for death.”
      Correct. If you are stupid enough to take on debt you can’t pay, you really shouldn’t be in ‘college’, not posting such shit where adults can read it.
      Fuck off, Olga.

      1. Agree on both points.

        To add something here, I will admit 100% that I was not ready for college. The school work was no issue whatsoever – I was simply not ready to choose a major and set up the financials. The cultural push to go into college immediately after high school is a bad thing. It’s a trick to sell what are almost mortgages to kids.

    2. Funny, almost everyone has the ability to work a summer job…for 4-6 years and leave college with no debt:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G.I._Bill

      But, I suppose EARNING your college is difficult for a lot of young people today…

      1. Summer job? The army is a summer job?

        1. Refering to military service as a “summer job” was intended to be somewhat comical.

          Though, it is usually hot…

          However, the point stands: you can 1) Get work experience, 2) Get your college paid for, and 3) The whole thing takes you 8 years of “investment,” MAX (4 years being PAID in the military + 4 years studying at college FOR FREE).

  14. My question for Bernie and Warren is whether college can really be “free?”

    For it to be free, that would mean the professors, administration, and support staff right down to the janitors and landscape maintenance workers would have to be entirely volunteers. The buildings and equipment would also need to have been donated, and the electricity for them provided free of charge by local utilities. Unless all of that applies, it is not free. It just means the costs are hidden and paid by someone else. To say otherwise is lying.

    One not so nice thing about hidden costs is that they tend to skyrocket.

    1. It will be free when they have power of gulag. Do your party duty and teach our treasured children, or go to gulag. See? Free.

    2. Actually, it could be (nearly) free if universities just posted all of their lectures and course materials on this fancy thing call the internet (all of those things already exist) and charged a nominal fee to have students’ tests and assignments graded at the same time the in-residence students had theirs done…you don’t need buildings or utilities if everyone just works/learns from home*.

      *Things that require hands-on learning that can’t be easily/safely recreated at home like chemistry labs would likely still have costs associated.

  15. Today, students pick up the bill for, on average, around 65 percent of the cost of the education they receive, with taxpayers plugging the gap.

    I’m not sure this is an apples-to-apples comparison, but according to this article from 2015, tuition covered only 25% of total expenses at state colleges and universities, with the rest coming from local, state, federal, and “other” sources (the data are from 2012).

  16. Irrational

    By definition, 50% of the population has an IQ of 100 or lower. Few are fit for college. Most are fit for trades. To promote college for the unsuited is irrational, reflecting the misguided, quasi-Marxist notion that everyone is equal, reality be damned.

    Education is one of the four, secular cornerstones of any society. It represents the future. Yet, the Media in this fragmenting, declining nation on fire pay it relatively little attention.

    There is a better way. Take it now or regret it later.

    https://www.nationonfire.com/education/ .

  17. “After nearly 40 years of offering free college, starting in 1998 students in England were asked to pay about $1,200 per year. Since then, tuition has risen to $11,000 per year.”

    This is what really stood out to me in this article. Let’s do some quick math. If you take 20 years to go from 1,200 annually to 11,000 annually, this works out to an annual growth rate of roughly 12% (11.7% to be precise). Sit back and think about that for a moment. In no year since 1998 did UK inflation exceed 6%.

    This is what worries me, and we see the same phenomenon here in the US; namely, education inflation is way higher than general inflation. Personally, this aspect is what really needs to be discussed….why the inflation rate difference?!

    Maybe the other question to ask is why our current public school system does not train and equip our children well enough for jobs in the digital and knowledge economy. Because I always thought that K-12 was supposed to give you the intellectual tools and skills to enter the working economy and thrive. If we need ‘free college’ to fill in those knowledge and skill gaps, then public school has singularly failed at this task.

    1. The $1,200 represents only the portion England asked students to pay – nowhere does it say that was the full cost. The 11.7% indicates a gradual movement of the burden from the government to the students, for which inflation was only a part.
      US tuition inflation is expected when government-backed loans are below market rates: cheap money leads to increased demand. Lowering tuition is easy: transition student loans from government to market rates, which reduces student demand, forcing colleges to compete on price (or at least “value”).

      1. Simple…..Yo, I don’t know about you, but 12% inflation each year is not gradual anything. That is 1973-74 style inflation.

  18. The UK has not done the “opposite” of what Sanders proposes. As you
    have stated, the UK system of loans amounts to a sliding scale of
    payment, because graduates with low earnings don’t have to pay the
    loans.

    In the US, by contrast students saddled with college debt can never
    escape, and it crushes their lives.

    It would be wise for the US to adopt a system like the UK’s. However,
    practically speaking, the system Sanders proposes is closer to that
    than it might seem. The gratis college education would not apply to
    the prestigious schools that scions of wealthy families go to.

  19. In a woke, out-emotioning one another competition, there is a key point missed about people from poor backgrounds not being able to afford college. And that is, that it is a good thing! If parents have to have some money to send their kid to college without them having to take on large school loans, the poor parents have motivation to improve themselves, their careers and their earning potential for the sake of their children’s future. Free college just like free healthcare and every left touted freebie disincentives work.

  20. “. . . graduates only start repaying that debt once they are earning more than $30,000. Any debt that remains after 30 years is forgiven altogether. . .

    . . . A report published earlier this year by the London-based conservative think tank Onward forecast that just 17 percent of graduates will fully pay back their loans. . . ”

    So it’s operationally free for the hoi polloi.

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