Why Subsidize College At All?

A blog about business and economics.
Dec. 20 2011 12:59 PM

Why Subsidize College At All?

Mike Konczal has a fairly compelling argument that it would make sense to dismantle the entire crazy quilt of "submerged state" tax deductions and credits designed to help make college affordable and just use the money to directly provide free or near-free college education at public universities.

I think, though, that any effort to radically rethink higher education finance does need to go back to first principles. Why spend public money on this at all? Why not dismantle the submerged state exactly as Konczal suggests, and give the money to poor people? Then people could use the money to buy higher education services or not according to whether or not they thought vendors of said services were, all things considered, offering a reasonable value proposition. There are good answers to this question (I think) but the nature of the answer you give helps shape your agenda for higher education reform.

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Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

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