Type to search

Could We Redirect Tax Subsidies To Pay For Free College?


Could We Redirect Tax Subsidies To Pay For Free College?


Want a way to pay for free higher education? Take a look at all the tax breaks that ease the burden of student debt.

Josh Eidelson has a great post at The Nation, “Fighting Privatization, Occupy Activists at CUNY and UC Kick Into High Gear,” that dives into the battles currently being waged against the dismantling of public higher education. One of the Occupy movement’s major objectives is combating the privatization of public higher education and its replacement with a debt-fueled economy of indenture.

While prepping a recent Occupy panel, Sarah Jaffe brought up how we subsidize student debt in a similar way to mortgage debt, that is, through allowing people to deduce the interest paid on this debt from taxes. According to Pew Charitable Trust’s website subsidyscope, the deductibility of student loan interest alone costs taxpayers $1.4 billion dollars. Instead of taking $1.4 billion dollars and directly making college cheaper, students take out massive amounts of student loan debt and we alter the tax code to make that debt $1.4 billion dollars cheaper.

This is an example of what Suzanne Mettler calls “the submerged state,” a pattern where the government has, as she says, “shunned the outright disbursing of benefits to individuals and families and favored instead less visible and more indirect incentives and subsidies, from tax breaks to payments for services to private companies. These submerged policies…obscure the role of government and exaggerate that of the market.” Instead of directly providing public options, we subsidize the purchasing of private goods, often using the tax code.


  1. rustacus21 December 20, 2011

    … particularly in Great Switzerland, Britain, Germany & Sweden, the most solvent of E.U. nations, their support of K-16 free schooling is evident in the fact that their home-grown talent has kept their nations progressively moving forward economic, socially & politically/diplomatically. In the U.S., it’s a cultural, racial, economic & political issue, why K-16 is so unpopular. Americans don’t fear the “competition” created by a more literate, enlightened & intellectual citizenery, in the international sphere, but rather, here at home! The disdain directed at President Obama & Fmr. President Bill Clinton are prime examples of “so-called” low class Americans who reached the pinnacle of intellectual achievements, by the sheer brilliance exhibited in an American educational system which, at the time of their attendance, was of the highest quality in the world. It was also at this time Steve Jobs, Bill Gates (though attending private religious schools, these schools competed fiercely w/neighboring public schools), Stephen Spielberg, Tom Hanks, Brad Pitt, Congressman & Human Rights champion John Lewis, among others, represent a broad cross-section of Americans aspiring to make a difference in this life & the future of the nation & the world at large…

  2. valszy December 21, 2011

    I am not certain Mr Konczal’s numbers truly add up to being able to provide free college (State schools I presume)country wide, but I am certain in is in this country’s best interests to do so. The future of any nation depends on making it possible for all intelligent, talented children to reach their full potential, be they the offspring of college professors, CEO’s or single moms in the poorer sections of cities. Yes, there are brilliant black and hispanic children with single moms with great potential, and so much of it is going to waste. “promote the general Welfare” is one of the six reasons given for the adoption of the Constitution. It seems to me that providing education and health care for all is necessary to do so.

  3. WillSwigart December 22, 2011

    I’ve always advocated for K-14/16 education, with the last 2-4 years optional when ever the student decides to take advantage of it, directly out of high school or years in the future. Read about the successes of other countries who have K-16 and perhaps we wouldn’t be attempting to continuously raise the HB1 Visa quotas to import educated people. Grow them locally I say. With that said, also require at least one quarter or semester to be study-abroad. We need citizens who understand/acknowledge other cultures as well.

  4. carlsh December 22, 2011

    I spent four years in Germany as a scientist. Yes, the Germans wisely provide higher education. They also respect tradespeople highly and train them. An educated population is needed to advance any country economically. And it education is particularly needed in a democracy. It is crucial that people think and then vote. Our failure to realize that education must be a national program of the highest priority is costing us highly.

  5. DianneLee December 22, 2011

    The average college graduate pays about $5800 more a year in federal taxes than the average high school graduate. Over 30 years, that totals about $172,000. If that’s divided by the 4 years it takes to get a college education, the government would break even if it paid every student $42,000 a year to attend school. This doesn’t even consider that with the degree, the person is less like to ever need unemployment or welfare, that more students would complete high school if they could see a clear way to a really good job, and that they would be enriching the Social Security and Medicare funds. And, he is also paying more in every other kind of taxes, spending more to keep the economy moving, giving more to charity– in every way being a more valuable member of society
    The best investment we could make to keep America strong is to not just forgive all student loans but to make all higher education totally free, not just for veterans, but for anyone who can make decent grades. Even as bad as things are now, we don’t just have a lack of jobs, we also have a lack of people who have the skills to perform the jobs that are available- in other words, a lack of education. America can not keep up with the rest of the world with a school system that is even now inadequate and becoming more so with every cut to their budgets.

  6. dpaano December 22, 2011

    Yeah, tell that to the Republicans….the ones that want to cut back on education in an effort to “dumb down” the general public. We need to open K12/16 to everyone free of charge (just let the students pay for their books) and give us a chance to “home grow” an intelligent group of people to run this country. Of course, that may mean that the Republicans would be out of jobs (lol)!


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.