As policymakers consider free or debt-free college plans, it is critical that they recognize that today higher education is essential and that the federal government can play a vital role in ensuring that quality higher education is broadly accessible. Many current free or debt-free college proposals share a similar structure of creating federal-state partnerships, but that is only one of many strategies the government can use to ensure that essential goods and services reach the public in an equitable manner.
New Ideas for Free College: Learning from the Landscape of American Public Goods by Suzanne Kahn seeks to broaden the discussion of how to structure a free college program by surveying some of the programs that the federal government currently uses to ensure widespread access to public goods—like Medicaid, Unemployment Insurance, and the postal mail service. This paper does not conclude that there is one best model, but it explores how each model might advance or hinder the goals of creating universal access, remediating racial and economic inequality, building a more inclusive economy, and deploying public power effectively. Policymakers must broaden their thinking and decide what they want a free college policy to accomplish and whom they want it to reach.