Published by The Chronicle of Higher Education
The biggest advantage of a free-tuition model is that it’s easy to communicate to prospective students. While it is possible to have a straightforward financial-aid program, Mr. McPherson says, it’s hard to beat the simplicity of free.
Tuition is far from the only cost at college, though. Room and board expenses can add up. Mr. McPherson says low-income students would be better off going to Harvard than Cooper Union under its free-tuition model. At Harvard, students from families making less than $65,000 a year don’t pay anything. And that way, a college doesn’t have to give free tuition to people who can afford to pay, he says.
Few institutions can afford to charge no tuition, and the ones that could — colleges with large endowments like Harvard and Princeton — have no reason to, says David W. Strauss, a principal with the Art & Sciences Group, a consulting firm. Plenty of students are willing to pay full price, so "why take it to zero?"