Free Public College May Change the Way Universities Recruit Students

It is no secret that college is more expensive and more important than ever, with tuition costs on the rise and the requirement of a postsecondary degree becoming more common. Tuition-free public education is a hot topic at the moment, and it has been implemented in some states and institutions. If this trend continues to spread, it will have an impact on the way that colleges reach out to college counselors and recruit students. 

College tuition prices are on the rise and have been for quite some time. According to the College Board’s 2018 Trends in College Pricing Report, costs have doubled for public two-year and private four-year schools since 1988 and tripled for public four-year schools. This kind of increase in cost of attendance makes college unattainable for many low-income students. A large number of young Americans support the push to eliminate tuition and fees at public institutions, even though it does come with costs of its own. It is estimated that eliminating tuition and fees for public colleges for low-income or all students would cost between $47 billion and $79 billion. This is a substantial amount of money for a country that is already in significant debt, but there have been proposed methods to cover these costs. One such proposal is to use tax dollars from the 0.1% of Americans that have over $50 million in assets. Another thought is that the cost could be covered by other areas of spending that may be reduced or eliminated with the implementation of tuition-free public college. While there are many thoughts on how to cover the costs of free public college, there are some concerns as well. One such worry is that the reform, if not done properly, will negatively impact the quality of education offered at these public institutions as the schools’ budgets decrease. 

There are some states and institutions that have already implemented tuition-free programs. Oregon, Nevada, Arkansas, New Jersey, Maryland, Tennessee, New York, Rhode Island, Delaware, Indiana, and Kentucky all have programs available for select students that offer two tuition-free years of college. These programs typically cover any remaining costs after all financial aid. In 2017, San Francisco made the City College of San Francisco free to all residents regardless of their income. The same year, New York became the first state to offer free four-year public college with the Excelsior Scholarship Program. Students meeting the academic, financial, and employment requirements are able to attend the State University of New York and the City University of New York tuition-free. These kinds of programs allow access to higher education for those that may otherwise not be able to attend. 

While the exact impact of these changes is unknown, it is clear that there will be a change in the way that colleges reach out to students and their college counselors, and it will affect private and public schools differently. Many private colleges see the push for free public higher education as a threat. Currently, many public colleges, even highly regarded ones, are struggling to meet enrollment targets while some private schools have more applicants than they could ever grant admission. If public colleges continue reducing or removing tuition, this dynamic will shift. Many private schools already focus on higher-income students that are able to pay for tuition, and this will continue. The biggest change in outreach for private colleges will be a new main target for recruitment. If free tuition does not extend to those outside of the country, admissions officers at private institutions will be pushed to reach out to more international students as more American students seek out tuition-free public schools. On the other side, public colleges will be seeing a rise in low-income students as the guarantee of no tuition draws those that may otherwise not apply for college. Admissions and outreach in these public colleges will begin to focus on these individuals and their college counselors. These outreach programs will also have the opportunity to address student and counselor concerns outside of scholarships and financial aid. One of the largest concerns regarding outreach within the tuition-free public higher education system is the potential lack of budget. If these public schools do not have enough funding to function at the ideal level, not only will the education available suffer, other aspects will as well, including outreach and admissions officers. 

The cost of college is something that has made it unattainable for many people for a long time, and that cost only continues to climb. As a college degree becomes more critical for employment, the topic of tuition-free public college continues to be debated. It is unclear exactly how the educational system will be affected if this shift is implemented across the country, but the impact will certainly be felt by everyone involved, including admissions officers and college counselors.