Editorial: “Free college isn’t sound public policy.” Meanwhile, efforts to boost affordability are working.

There’s no longer any doubt. To use the Washington Roundtable’s line, “the credential is essential” to success in an increasingly demanding jobs market. That’s true nationally and especially true in our state’s vibrant economyy. 

What remains in some doubt, though, is how best to achieve that goal. The Partnership for Learning has identified a serious of pragmatic and effective strategies. And, while there has been discussion of making college cost free for students, the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin offers a clear-eyed assessment of why that’s not feasible.

According to the College Board, two-thirds of students who earned a four-year degree in 2017 borrowed to pay for school. The average student loan bill was $28,500 upon graduation. The Washington Post reported that those with graduate and professional degrees accounted for 26 percent of borrowers but 48 percent of debt.  

Colleges and trade schools will charge more for tuition and fees year after year because the government — taxpayers — are footing the bill. The cost will go up but the quality of education won’t necessarily follow.

The editorial continues,

Frankly, government is currently having a tough time paying for high-quality kindergarten through high school.

It’s worth considering. As Don Brunell writes in his column, there are plenty of efforts in our state that demonstrate how employers are making it possible for workers to achieve desired credentials. 

Free-college for all would cost a minimum of $75 billion each year if tuition was $4,400 per year, Quillette, an online think tank, estimated last September. “That doesn’t pay the bills even for in-state students at many public flagships. The University of Michigan, for example, costs over $15,000 per year for Michigan residents, and about $50,000 for out-of-state students.”

There are a variety of other approaches which can make higher education more affordable…

Many small business owners in Washington State offer college scholarships and combine them with work and other benefits. Hopefully, the up-front funding offsets the need for loans and make it possible for students to complete their college education or technical skills training.

For example, in Seattle, Dick’s Drive-Ins offers employees who work 20 hours a week for at least six months and continue to work at least 20 hours a week while going to school to have access to a $25,000 scholarship over four years.

We identified other approaches in a post earlier this week. Affordability and access can be achieved in a way that’s also affordable for students, employers and taxpayers. The good news is that major strides are already being made.