What is the real cost of a free college education?

America has 20 million students in colleges and universities

What is the real cost of a free college education?

SHARON, Pa. (WYTV) – Throughout the presidential campaign, there has been a focus on making college more affordable. But is it possible for higher education to be free?

Kate Erdesky is doing student work this summer to help pay for her education at Penn State Shenango.

“It is a concern in the back of my mind, the student debt,” she said.

Student loan debt passed up credit card debt six years ago, and only ranks behind mortgages.

Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have been talking about student loan debt and on Wednesday, Donald Trump mentioned it for the first time. Some ideas to lower the cost are closing tax loopholes for higher income people and corporations.

America has 20 million students in colleges and universities, and room and board averages about $10,000 a year at public universities. It would be $200 billion a year just to cover that cost before tuition would even be considered.

“It certainly could be a realistic plan, it’s just a question of how it’s executed, and who gets the benefit and who doesn’t,” said Sarah Jenyk, an economics instructor at YSU.

The plan could benefit all students or just those in middle or lower income families.

A college graduate earns $1 million more over their lifetime than a person with only a high school diploma. Jenyk says that a college education doesn’t just benefit the student, but extends to society as well.

“A highly educated workforce will earn more over their lifetime, that translates into more tax revenue for the government so they can provide more services.”

When college students or their parents hear “free college” or “debt-free college,” it’s easy to become excited. Erdesky is waiting to hear the details before deciding who she’ll vote for in the election, though.

“Anything that could help or benefit someone, or even giving them the opportunities that they didn’t have before, getting people thinking more about their future, this could be a potential good thing,” she said.

While the unemployment rate for a person with a college degree is nearly 50 percent lower than a person with just a high school diploma, student loans are carried for a lifetime and cannot be wiped clean in bankruptcy.

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