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Michigan ‘free’ community college would burden taxpayers: experts

‘I don’t think there is such a thing as free community college, someone is paying for it’

Michigan’s “free” community college idea will burden taxpayers, according to experts.

“Every single Michigander should be able to count on a free public education from pre-k through community college,” Governor Gretchen Whitmer said in a speech laying out her goals for 2024.

“This will save students an average of $4,000 as they earn an associates degree or skills certificate at a community college, helping them land a better-paying, high-skill job in a career field they love,” the governor’s office stated in a fact sheet.

Her team did not respond to requests for comment from The College Fix.

The Fix reached out to the Democratic governor’s office via email and phone, seeking details on the spending plan proposal three times in the past three weeks.

All taxpayers will bear the costs according to an education economist and emeritus professor at Ohio University.

“I don’t think there is such a thing as free community college, someone is paying for it. The issue is who is paying for it,” Richard Vedder told The Fix on a phone interview. “We sometimes lose sight of that.”

He’s “skeptical” of the plan.

If Governor Whitmer’s proposal is passed by the legislature “there would be larger tax revenues devoted to tuition rebates to fund this, and that in turn would mean that the burden of the funding would be put on other people,” Vedder said.

Vedder suggests that the funding would be a cost rather than a benefit to high school graduates who chose to move directly into the workforce as they would be paying taxes to support their peers in college.

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Free community college “is a transformational opportunity for graduating seniors,” Governor Whitmer said in her speech.

But a Michigan-based think tank disagrees.

“If every high school graduate took up the offer, it would cost taxpayers $800 million at current rates,” James Hohman, director of fiscal policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, told The Fix via email.

The free-market think tank expert called Whitmer’s plan “an immense expense for questionable benefits.”

“Lawmakers should care more about ensuring better outcomes from the institutions than funding more inputs,” Hohman said. “I hope that elected officials recognize that there are improvements to be made without transferring more college costs onto taxpayers.”

Preston Cooper with the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity pointed The Fix to an article he wrote criticizing President Joe Biden’s proposal for free community college.

“California provides a cautionary tale,” he wrote for Forbes in 2021. “The Golden State has the nation’s lowest community college tuition: just $715 per semester. Yet its college completion rate is below the national average.”

“Replicating California’s massive investment in community colleges at the national level may not yield the results advocates hope for,” Cooper wrote.

Rylee Linting, a former Michigan college student who now attends Liberty University, called the idea “unfair.”

“This is unfair to all the students who have already gone to school in Michigan and have already paid off all their student loans,” Linting told The Fix.

“I think it’s a misallocation of funds,” she said. The state should focus instead on “increasing the quality of education,” if it wants to see greater enrollment and retention, Linting said.

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IMAGE: Gretchen Whitmer/X

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About the Author
College Fix contributor Emma Arns is a student at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville where she is studying business and political science. She is involved with College Republicans and serves as secretary of her school's TPUSA chapter. She also writes and reports for Campus Reform.