Free College Tuition in America - Why This Should Be a Conversation

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Free College Tuition in America – Why This Should be a Conversation

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Should college tuition at public institutions be free?

The topic of free college tuition is very controversial. There are a lot of opinions and facts to take into account. In my opinion, college as a whole should not be free. A college campus is very expensive to run with academic buildings, dorm buildings, meal plans, and not to mention all of the utility costs that add up. Professors and other college campus staff have to be payed and already deserve more than they receive. However, I believe that college tuitions at public institutions should be free. Students can choose to live off campus and receive a great education without going into debt.

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2016 Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders wrote an article in the New York Times in 2015, which explain his beliefs for a free education. In this article, Sanders talks about the history of public education costs. Until the late 1800s, even a high school education wasn’t always free. Rutherford B. Hayes was the first president to push for free public education for primary and secondary schooling back in 1877. For him, education was the only way to accurately have full economic and political participation, and full participation was the best way to have a decent life and community. He believed an education should be available to everyone, regardless of their financial situation. The average in-state tuition at a public university in the United States is around $9,000. However, no student needs to be reminded that college is expensive.

According to an article written in Forbes Magazine by Chris Denhart, the student loan debt for our country hit one trillion dollars back in 2013 and has been rising ever since. He also states that one in ten graduates accumulates over $40,000 in debt. This statistic doesn’t even include drop outs. The average borrower will owe $26,600 after graduating and spend the rest of their lives paying it off. People now owe more to student loan debt than anything else, including credit card debt and automobile loan debt. The longer it takes a person to pay back their loans, the more interest accumulates, and the less likely they will ever finish paying it all back. According to Denhart, “With the federal debt at $16.7 trillion, student loan debts measure at 6% of the overall national debt.” That is not a small amount, and of the many consequences of national debt, this slows economic growth. A college degree is the new high school diploma, and it is hard to get a decent job with benefits without it.

Many people also take out private loans as opposed to federal loans, even though federal loans are subject to income based payback, fixed interest rates, and take nine months to default on, making them a much safer loan for students to take, according to Lauren Asher, president of TICAS. She also states that higher education is the best investment for your future. “When the economy is down, more people turn to higher education to get an edge in the job market, but have less money to finance it,” Asher states.

In many European countries, students go to college, tuition free. Many students leave the US to receive a decent education to save money. More than 4,600 students leave the United States every year and enroll in German universities alone, according to Bernie Sanders’ article in The New York Times. So many countries in the world have government funded universities and make it work because their governments understand the importance of a higher education and the positive impact it makes on their economies and their communities.

The fact of the matter is, free higher education would encourage more students to attend college. However, this wouldn’t make students just “try that college thing”. Admission standards would still be in effect and possibly become even more selective, as more people than ever apply to universities. Students who don’t have the ambition will not be able to float their way through school, because even now, universities don’t allow their students to sleep through classes, miss assignments, or fail a class with no repercussions.

Over half of all undergraduate students work in college, and about 40 percent work full time, according to a Georgetown University study. Having a job in college can have great impacts, including creating work ethic, but especially to have money spend on other expenses, like enjoying your college experience. But again, about 40 percent of working students work full time. This is time they could be using to focus on studies so they can succeed with their degree. But what are some solutions?

Well, paying taxes is a civic duty. They are not only used to benefit others, but yourself as well. As children, adult tax payers paid money to give us all the opportunity for free schooling up through 12th grade. Even though college is a privilege, it should not be only for the financially privileged. If a student has the ambition and ability to succeed in college if given the opportunity, why are we not giving them that opportunity?

In the history of the United States, higher education has been decently affordable. Unlike today, tuition was lower and financial aid covered a much larger percentage of tuition costs. According to an article in The American Prospect by Keith Ellison, “the cost of attending a four-year college has increased by 1,122 percent since 1978”. Not only that, but now student loan debt is the largest amount of personal debt in our country. In 2015, 38 million American students owed more than $1.3 trillion in student loans. The United States has the highest college tuition and fees in the entire world and it is slowing our economic growth. Having a higher education used to mean a brighter future for you and your family, but student loan debt increases the difficulty to buy a house, buy a car, start a business, and start a family. People used to turn to higher education when the economy struggled, in order to have job security and attempt to secure their family’s future.

The solution? It lies in our government investing in the education and future of not only our youth, but anyone who desires an education and a brighter future. Our federal and state governments will simply have to commit to reinvesting funds into tuition costs. Ellison states “Any public college or university that benefited from the reinvestment program would be required to limit tuition increases.” He also mentions, as this would lower tuition for all students, schools that lowered tuition would receive additional federal grants based on the degree to which costs are lowered. Reinvesting in higher education programs, such as Pell Grants and work-study programs would ensure that these programs and other forms of financial aid that students don’t have to pay back would cover greater costs of their tuitions. This would make it easier for low-income students to cover housing costs, meal plans, and book fees. Therefore, giving students little to no debt as a graduate.

Not only should we rid of college debt, but we should rid of public college tuition costs as a whole. Our tax money has been paying for our local elementary, middle, and high schools since the late 1800s, so it is now time to progress our nation and economy by making college a necessity for intelligent and ambitious students. All students have the option of public school, even if their parents can afford to pay for a private and/or religious education. These free schools are crucial to our youth’s health and future. College should be included in this investment in their future.

As stated previously, free college is a controversial topic filled with different opinions, so here’s the counterargument. An article by Bob Luebke outlines the many reasons why free college may not be a good idea. One point he proposes is, nothing is actually “free”; it’s just a matter who pays for it. In the case of the United States, it would be included in the taxes paid to the government. With the 2016 election, this aspect was thrown around a lot, especially with presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. In a CNN article written by Katie Lobosco, she explains Sander’s standpoint on how it would be paid for, because yes, it’s not technically “free”.

Under Sanders’ plan, the U.S. and state governments would be covering the amount of money that a public college would receive for college tuition. The regular tax payers would also not be getting a major tax increase with what Sanders’ refers to as the “Robin Hood tax on Wall Street”. This would be a 9% increase on the wealthy on Wall Street and would significantly lower the amount tuition would take from the lower and middle class tax payers.

Another argument Luebke proposes is, if college education has value, why give it away for free? The answer to that is simple. A person’s over all life is significantly improved with a college education. According to Philip Trostel, author of “It’s Not Just The Money”, there’s plenty of reasons people benefit from having a college education that isn’t just a well-paying job. A person who has at least a bachelor’s degree has more overall structure in their life. The likelihood of them having a retirement plan through employment is 72 percent greater and their retirement income is, on average, 2.4 times higher. Their likelihood of becoming unemployed is over two times lower and their job safety is greater. The need for workers’ compensation is also 2.4 times lower, the chance of poverty is 3.5 times lower, which is great for the country’s overall economy.

An increase in college education also improves any local community. People are more likely to interact with neighbors, they are more likely to be involved in their community, and they are generally more politically involved. Charitable contributions are more likely with college graduates, and college graduates are, on average, more involved in their children’s lives. They are also more likely to volunteer, and less likely to commit crimes. The relationship between incarceration and education is so closely related. Statistics from the 2012 American Community Survey Public Use Microdata Sample show that the more education a person has, the less likely they are to be incarcerated in their lifetime. The rise in education would significantly drop public incarceration costs, which a majority of the money to pay these costs comes straight from US tax payers. That is money that could be going towards a college education.

Ultimately, that is the kind of world most people would like to live it. College education does have value, but so does the impact it has on not only our communities, but our country as a whole. With a more educated population, we can become a better nation. Though we may never be rid of crime, poverty, and unemployment, anything we can do to reduce these problems should be attempted. Everyone who is dedicated to educating themselves has the right to an education, regardless of their financial situations. College tuition should be free at public institutions because the current cost is unaffordable, unreasonably difficult to repay, creates major debt for our country, and college education simply makes a person more likely to succeed in their life. Our country can significantly improve in so many aspects. If this solution doesn’t work, we can always seek other options that become apparent. However, we don’t know this won’t work until we try.

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