Philip asks if Low tuition encourages career slackers? I think there are a couple of relevant factors you have to consider before you could make this connection. The first is the student’s family background. The students from wealthier families probably tend to be more focused on an educational path that will make similar sorts of money. The second is the admissions requirements for the school. Schools that are more difficult to get into are more likely to end up with more focused students.
The cost of tuition in itself is essentially irrelevant to the students - one way or another it is not “their” money being spent, so the effect on motivation is probably minor.
I saw this correlation at the California schools. The University of California accepted only students in the top 4%. The California State colleges accepted a much larger number (33%?), and the Community Colleges would accept pretty much anyone who could show up. At the time the cost to attend a UC school was pretty much nominal. I knew folks at all three schools in the same area (Orange County) and it was very clear that the number of “slackers” was greater for the schools with easier admission requirements.
There is another thread worth picking up here. Through a series of mostly Republican governors and largely Democratic assemblies the cost to attend the UC schools has risen rather a lot. I think this is not a good thing. Motivated students come from all sorts of family-income groups. If there is any value to the country in training students to the level of their ability, excluding students on their families ability to afford tuition is a mistake.
On a similar note - last week I caught a fragment of a program on TV about the declining populations in “first world” countries (exclusive of immigration). Some countries are encouraging their citizens to have more children. What I did not hear mentioned was the most obvious factor - raising children is costly, and most couples find it too difficult to raise more than one or two children. If you want couples to have more children, it must become easier to afford.
Free universities are one way to help. Free childcare - or (likely better) a cost of living that allows one parent to stay home, is another way to help. Southern California is especially bad in this regard. The cost to buy a house in a safe neighborhood for your children is simply beyond the reach of most young couples. The cost of buying a house requires both husband and wife to work, which means the additional cost of childcare. Faced with childcare expenses when the children are young, and the possible college expenses when the children are older, most parents simply feel unable to afford more than one or two children.
If you truly believe that families and education are important, then you need to recognize and adjust the costs involved.
Put differently - if you can’t raise the bridge, lower the river. If the cost of raising children well is too much, then you lower those costs. Tax families on their “excess” income after the costs of housing, childcare, college and retirement are fully accounted. Cut taxes to families and (when necessary) subsidize the costs associated with raising children in high-cost areas. If the country is required to subsidize costs (housing, childcare, etc.), then you pass those costs along to the cause. If businesses locate too far from safe, affordable housing then you tax those businesses in direct proportion to the costs incurred by the country. Once added to the cost of doing business, businesses will be naturally motivated to locate closer to areas suitable for families.
This would likely accelerate the decline of many inner-city areas. Whether this is a bad thing is a different question.