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Another Voice: Free tuition plan will upend private colleges

By Thomas Caulfield

There should be dancing in the streets because of the new New York State law providing free college education for all. That is, free college education for all providing the student attends a public college. That means private colleges are cut out of the picture and will not benefit from this legislation.

Now, private colleges are already having a tough time of it. The pool of students has been diminishing as of late. The reduced numbers of potential students means fewer paying students for the colleges to enroll and the competition has become quite severe. Private colleges have already been preparing to basically survive by making cuts to programming, faculty and resources.

Enter the new law.

Do you think private colleges will flourish now, or will this be the death knell for that venerable multitude of campuses that have prepared a multitude of leaders throughout the years? With one stroke of the pen, a whole educational industry is in danger of being wiped out.

The irony is that this law was passed under the leadership of a governor who received his elementary, high school and college education at private institutions. Assuredly, those institutions had something to do with preparing him for his current success.

Has anyone heard of a voucher system, such as has been practiced successfully in Minnesota, Louisiana, Vermont, Ohio, Europe, etc.? It’s true the voucher system is hotly debated, but using it may save numerous institutions of higher education. Even the Supreme Court has approved use of educational vouchers.

It is taxes that support public education. Those who decide to use private education actually pay double taxes. They pay their taxes to support the public schools as well as tuition to support private education. Consider how much money private education has saved state taxpayers over the years, while enhancing freedom of choice. Eliminate private education and all those students will be dumped into public education. Then watch your taxes soar while you and your children have freedom of choice reduced even more.

My own experience in education was undertaken primarily at private institutions, including grammar school, high school, college and master’s degree. My doctorate was at a public institution. The strong preparation I received in private education was clearly responsible for completion of the advanced degree. In addition, I was free to choose which venue was attended. We, as Americans, enjoy more freedoms than people of other nations, yet those freedoms are gradually disappearing. Must we whittle away at our freedoms even more with this latest legislation? Was it not our freedom of choice which made this nation great?

Who will be able to afford a private college education? Will it be only zealots and the very, very wealthy? For common folk, freedom of choice will be eliminated through economic necessity. Though I am happy for those who will benefit from this legislation, it raises a worrisome issue over which I am not dancing in the street.

Thomas Caulfield, Ed.D., is professor emeritus of counselor education at Canisius College.

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