College tuition: ‘like starting a race with an anchor tied to your leg’

Selena McPherson / The News

The staff editorial is the majority opinion of The Murray State News Editorial Board

Headline quote from Gov. Andrew Cuomo

Selena McPherson / The News

Without a doubt, one of the hottest topics of the 2016 Elections was college tuition and how to pay for it.

Whether it was Bernie Sanders’ plan that set you ablaze or Trump’s lack of one that discouraged you, the issue is by no means settled.

Earlier this month, New York state Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed free college tuition for New York State colleges, according to The New York Times, but don’t miss the crucial fine print: the waiver would apply for eligible “middle class” students – in this case, students whose personal or family annual income is less than $125,000.

In Kentucky, that benchmark may sound glamorously high for the gift of free college, but in New York, it may not affect as many students as hoped.

With such an ambitious plan – one the governor wants to enact starting in the fall with a $100,000-income benchmark – Cuomo has already encountered plenty of skepticism and criticism.

For most of America, the idea of free tuition might sound like a dream too good to be true. But does every student actually want that gift at the expense of taxpayers?

At a university like Murray State where many students view working as a necessary and worthwhile pursuit during college, some students might favor a work-for-tuition trade-off rather than a costly waiver. In Cuomo’s case, that cost is $163 billion, a price he advertises as extremely low.

Even that deal may strike students as impossible, but considering that many Kentucky graduate programs and private undergraduate programs offer similar options, the fantasy might be attainable in the Bluegrass State.

At Berea College, for example,  each student receives a Tuition Promise Scholarship, according to the school’s website. Translation: no student pays for tuition. However, that incredible promise is counterbalanced by student labor. In addition to having a full class load, all students must work 10-15 hours per week for the university.

Because Murray State is larger than a private institution like Berea, it’s unlikely that every single student would be able to score a campus job in exchange for full tuition. If that were the case, our acceptance rate would surely plummet and become much more competitive.

Perhaps free tuition is only imaginable for private or community colleges, given the size is small enough. It can’t be in reach for everyone, as politicians claim – even Hillary Clinton’s and Bernie Sanders’ plans made that sneakily clear.

In Clinton’s plan, families with an income of $125,000 or less would receive free tuition, but only at in-state, four-year public universities, according to the former presidential candidate’s website.

While Sanders offered a similar plan and encouraged student work-study, his program – which had a proposed cost of $75 billion – would be paid for by the wolves of Wall Street. 

“If the taxpayers of this country could bailout Wall Street in 2008,” Sanders’ website reads, “we can make public colleges and universities tuition free and debt free throughout the country.”

The plans sound dreamy, but with the hairpiece who currently sits in the Oval Office, it’s highly unlikely that even a semblance of those proposals will grace struggling American college students any time soon.