Her arguments echo several being brought up as free college emerges as a Democratic platform item.
The first, largest issue is college completion.
Poor students are far less likely to finish college than their rich counterparts. And that includes poor kids who are smart and get high scores on, well, anything. Here's a chart that lays it out:
Poor students apply to less selective schools, and their are fewer poor students who rank as high achievers (which is unsurprising since "high achiever" means "good standardized test score-getter" which we know doesn't correlate closely with poverty).
It's possible that tuition costs are part of what forces poor students out of school, and that free tuition might help. But there's also a strong case to be made that poor students take all of the problems of poverty to college with them. It's not just that it costs money to pay tuition to go to college; it costs money just to be there, to live in a lifestyle that is in many ways upper class. It's like tossing students over the wall into an exclusive swimming pool without ever checking to see if they can swim.
And here's another depressing factoid. We can talk about how hard it is for poor students to finish college, but data suggests that middle class students have a lousy completion rate as well.
The second issue is just how much value a college education provides.
Folks keep discussing college degrees as if there's a direct correlation between degree and lifetime earnings. The emphasis on
What research suggests repeatedly is that your eventual earning power is best predicted by that of your parents. I've seen various charts for these data, but here's one that Schrager uses
In other words, a man who comes from the lowest SES level who gets a Bachelors degree will still make about a third of the lifetime earnings of a rich-kid high school grad.
I've seen various numbers associated with this argument, but the basic point remains unchanged-- college does not remotely come close to magically erasing the effects of your SES of origin.
So does all this mean that free tuition is a bust of an idea? I don't think so-- a college degree is still worth having (though good welding certification is also an excellent career move). But to suggest that free college will cure societies ills, reverse social injustice, and revitalize America's stalling social mobility-- well, it's not going to do those things. It's foolish to expect it to, and even more foolish to institute free tuition and then declare, "Mission accomplished," and stop looking for better solutions for the underlying issues.