1/ The analogy the free tuition folks like to make is to free K-12 or things like utilities (which aren't actually free at point of use, but whatevs). But PSE is a much more heterogeneous good than either; and that even in $0 countries consumption is correlated with income
2/ Basically: the number of years a good is consumed is not fixed: the wealthier tend to spend longer in school *even in free tuition countries*. Also, cost of education varies by field, and poorer students tend to cluster in cheaper programs *even in free tuition countries*.
3/ The "regressiveness" (progressive/regressive are tricky words with shifty meanings, but let's leave that alone for now) of tuition subsidies are kind of baked in. The rich consume *more* PSE than the rest of society. Is that something we should subsidize?
4/ Now, in US, the is slightly different: b/c the rich, to a considerable degree, *choose* to pay much higher $ to go to prestige private 4-yr colleges , and presumably would continue to do so even if tuition were made free at public HEIs. Mitigates the regressive effects.
5/ BUT, when you move the terrain from free tuition to debt forgiveness, the regressivity argument comes back with a vengeance. Some of the biggest debts come from rich(ish) kids who took out big loans to go to professional programs leading to rich careers. Why subsidize this?
6/ The arguments in favour of universality in forgiveness or tuition are basically arguments of political failure: that the poor can't have nice things unless the rich are bribed into submission. It's possible this is true in US, I don't know. I don't think it's true everywhere.
7/ Last point: higher ed as a policy area has a *lot* in common with housing (it's to some degree a positional good despite having positive externalities, similarly described as a "right", etc). Always curious to observe how different policy approaches to the two fields are.
8/OK, actually one more point: the argument in favour of fees is not just "let;s raise money for operating costs" but also "this is a good which produces substantial private returns". There is a good argument for seeing the fee as an attempt to limit private returns.
9/ It's not an unproblematic way to capture those returns, obviously. The most elegant way to try to achieve this (the Uk tuition model) turned out to be both a communications and financial disaster. But dismissing the private returns has problems too.
10/ In Europe, or Brazil, say, free tuition regimes see students from relatively wealthy backgrounds cluster in disciplines which tend to have very high returns and so you get the same inter-generational class reproduction, only it's entirely paid for by the state.