NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

College Tuition Vouchers

August 10, 2001

Much attention has been focused on providing vouchers to elementary and secondary public school students. Using vouchers to fund college education would have the same benefits: it would give students more choices and spur higher education reforms. It could also be cheaper than the current funding of public universities.

Public institutions make up much of the current upper education infrastructure:

  • Almost half of the nation's 4,000 colleges and universities are government owned and operated, and almost 80 percent of America's 14 million post-secondary students are enrolled in public institutions.
  • For the 1997-98 academic year, the average tuition and fees were $3,110 at four-year public institutions, but $13,392 at four-year private institutions.
  • This amounts to an annual cost to taxpayers exceeding $50 billion.

Furthermore, states fund public colleges from general revenues, which means low- and middle-income taxpayers underwrite the costs of educating students from high-income households. For example, Georgia's Hope Scholarship is funded by profits from selling lottery tickets, which are disproportionately purchased by the poor.

If the government spent the $50 billion now given directly to public colleges on vouchers:

  • It could fund full-tuition vouchers for about four million students, or one-third of those currently attending public universities.
  • Larger vouchers could be offered to the poorest 5 percent or 10 percent, with the remaining funds used for middle-income students.

Vouchers would remove the regressive wealth redistribution, provide poorer students the ability to go to college, and give middle class students more options. Vouchers would allow colleges that were previously publicly funded to be operated independently of government direction. For example, schools like the formerly all-male Citadel could retain their institutions without violating any government codes, while others could implement affirmative action if they chose to do so.

Source: Jeffrey Miron (president, Bastiat Institute), "Thinking Big," Milken Institute Review, Second Quarter, 2001.


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