Hillary Clinton wants to address a big problem in America: the rising cost of college. The Democratic presidential nominee is proposing free tuition for students attending in-state public institutions.

But Patricia McGuire, president of Trinity Washington University, is concerned about the number of poor students who would not be included in Clinton’s plan. That’s because many of them attend small private colleges and universities like Trinity.

Trinity Washington University's Pat McGuire
Trinity Washington University president Pat McGuire

“This notion that the federal government will suddenly set up this debt-free college system only supporting students going to public universities belies the fact that many, many low-income students of color who have lived on the margins do far better in small, private colleges where they get a lot of attention,” McGuire tells us. “We cannot set up this mythology that public schools do all the work, and private schools only serve elites.”

That perspective is shared by Catharine Hill, who until this month headed Vassar, a private college in New York. During her tenure, Hill actively recruited poor students and instituted a need-blind admissions policy. She says the discussion around free tuition should involve both public and private institutions.

Catharine Bond Hill, former president of Vassar College
Vassar College’s former president, Catharine Hill

McGuire and Hill speak with Tiny Spark about large philanthropic gifts to higher education, how inequality in higher ed reflects broader inequality in America, and lessons on race and diversity when it comes to college access.

Additional Resources

Washington Post: The Devoted: She spent her life transforming Trinity. So where does Pat McGuire — and the university she rebuilt — go from here?

Education Writers Association: Reporter Q&A with Vassar College President Catharine Bond Hill

NYT Mag: Is College Tuition Really Too High? The answer depends on what you mean by college.

Buzzfeed: How Poor And Minority Students Are Shortchanged By Public Universities

Washington Post: The continuing myth of free college

TIME: Should Wealthy Colleges Be Forced to Spend More of Their Money on Financial Aid?

(Photo credits: Trinity Washington University and Vassar College/John Abbott)