Should college education be free?


Claire Gilliland and Aaron Tam

Claire Gilliland

College is something many students aspire to, another stop on the pathway to success. Most high-paying jobs require a higher level of education than a high school diploma. Whether students are considering a college or university or a vocational school, any level of education beyond high school must be paid for. This payment can be via scholarships, federal grants and loans, payment from the students themselves, or some combination of the three.

For many students and their families, the daunting cost of four-year universities, even with scholarships and financial aid to help pay, is too much to fathom. Students can be in debt before they’re even allowed to start their lives, stuck paying off loans from a college education before they can get a job using their diploma. This debt can follow students, accumulating as they encounter expenses throughout their lives and hovering over their heads as they work to pay it off.

Other students can’t even think of going to college, or at least a four-year university, because of the expense. According to the College Board, the average tuition for private colleges is $33,480, the average tuition at state colleges for in-state students is $9,650, and the average tuition for out-of-state residents at public colleges is $24,930.

Though community college is a cheaper option, it is not necessarily always affordable. Students do still have to pay for college education; a majority do not attend for free. The Community College Research Center at Teachers College says that only about 38 percent of community college students attend for free or receive money back.

According to U.S. News, some of the lack of financial aid coverage can be accounted for by students not applying for grants or loans. Many students simply do not learn enough about college readiness before applications; others, such as people attending school part-time or not directly out of high school, do not believe that they are eligible for financial aid.

During the recent presidential race, Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders gained popularity among the nation’s youth because of his ideas, one of which was free college education. He argued that not only is free education good for citizens of the United States, but it is also good for the nation as a whole.

“In a highly competitive global economy, we need the best-educated workforce in the world,” Sanders said on his website. “It is insane and counter-productive to the best interests of our country and our future, that hundreds of thousands of bright young people cannot afford to go to college, and that millions of others leave school with a mountain of debt that burdens them for decades.”

Sanders cites examples to prove his point: countries like Germany, Norway, and Sweden offer free college education to encourage their youth to go to college. Until the 1980s, the UCs used to offer free tuition, as did some public colleges in New York, Sanders said. In the 1960s the average tuition for college was less than $250.

Sanders understands that this would cost a lot for the country, but proposes a tax on Wall Street of a fraction of a percent to pay for it. He says that such a tax has been implemented in other countries, such as Germany and Switzerland, successfully.

Additionally, college education not only benefits the recipient, it also has a positive impact on the national economy as a whole. According to the American Association for Community Colleges, community colleges alone contributed $809 billion to the economy to the national economy. It predicts that the economy will also have a higher tax revenue of $285.7 billion from students’ higher wages.

Taxpayers may argue that they do not wish to fund a student’s college education, especially if it exceeds the four-year path. However, students should be encouraged to take enough classes each year so that they obtain enough credits to graduate in four years. Perhaps, after a certain number of years, students’ reliance on the government to pay their tuition could end and they could be left to fund their education independently.

College education is not something to take lightly; it can change lives and shift students toward success. Because of its importance, college education should be free for students so the nation shows its youth that they can succeed.

Aaron Tam

Collectively, Americans owe close to $1.3 trillion in student loan debt from college. Spread out among 44 million students, the average college graduate of 2016 will owe $37,172.

Something has to be done about college tuition, but no one can agree on what should be done. Numerous people believe education is a fundamental right and that free education is the correct step to improving the future. But is it really?

With the current system, students are allowed to take their student aid to the college of their choosing — public or private. With both free and private colleges available, a larger number of educational programs are offered. As a result students can choose from a diverse selection of programs and thus better educate themselves toward their dream job.

But with free college, the choices a student can make will shrink dramatically. Private colleges now competing with highly subsidized public colleges will struggle to survive. Although financial aid will remain present for all students, the allure of having completely free college rather than paying any tuition will destroy private colleges. At the same time, less competitive public colleges will have less pressure to serve their students effectively. But these arguments do not even touch the fallacy of “free” college education.

According to Vermont Senator Bernie Sander’s College for All Act, free tuition would cost approximately $75 billion dollars a year — double the amount the government spent on Pell grants in 2016.

Face it: money doesn’t grow from trees, so someone will still need to pay for this “free” tuition. That someone will be all citizens in the form of taxes including students, and the next wave of students, and the next if free college tuition becomes a reality. What’s the purpose of working hard to get an education and obtaining a dream job if the government will only want more of what you earn?

Some argue that if people can’t afford to go to college to obtain a degree in the first place, they won’t even be able to get a job and generate income. But that’s what student loans, scholarships, community colleges, and work-study jobs are for.

At the same time, government involvement with the student loan business has only led to skyrocketing tuition. Inflation-adjusted tuition has tripled in the same 30 years that government aid has quadrupled. What’s to stop a college from raising tuition if they know the government is willing to pay them? Colleges will no longer worry if a student can pay for tuition, but simply how much money the college can take from the government.

“Free college tuition” isn’t the answer to improving the future because money has never been the issue in the first place. There is an abundance of financial support in the forms mentioned before, so if a student truly deserves a place in college then numerous third parties will support the student. There is no upper vs. lower class debate. No one lacks opportunity. Instead of claiming the lack of opportunity compared to others and falling into the ever-so-popular victim mentality, students should create their own opportunities.

There have been numerous “rags to riches” stories for a reason. Resources and money help alleviate the costs to go to college, but consistently relying on excuses instead of actively fixing the main issue, the student, will only result in a college drop-out rate that is higher than it is today — a staggering 40 percent.

What’s after free college education? Free food? Free housing? Free cats? The list of excuses is endless if students don’t realize their only oppressor is none other than themselves.

Education is a privilege, not a right.