Should college be free for everyone?
- A 2021 Pew Research Center survey of US adults found that 85% of Democrats “overwhelmingly favor making college tuition free for all American students,” while 63% of Republicans “oppose making college tuition-free.”
- Investopedia details how several European countries offer free or low-cost college that may or may not require stipulations, including Norway, Finland, Sweden, Germany, France, and Denmark.
- Formal education established by scribes in ancient cultures, such as Mesopotamia, had high-cost tuitions that “only boys of wealthy families could afford,” according to historyonthenet.com.
- A 2021 Statista statistic of university tuition and fees (for students studying in-state and on-campus) in the US reveals that “costs have steadily been increasing, and in 2018/19 had reached an average of 14,512 US dollars”.
- The University of Paris, founded between 1150 and 1170, was the first university to arise in northern Europe, and was notable for its teaching of theology, and “served as a model for other universities in northern Europe such as the University of Oxford in England, which was well established by the end of the 12th century.”
The idea of tuition-free colleges in the United States is not, by any means, a unique one. From the 1860s until the mid-1960s, students in the United States enjoyed tuition-free colleges and universities. By 1965, the Johnson administration saw that state taxes would no longer fund public universities but instead fund student loans for public and private universities.
Consequently, funding for college tuition began to decrease, and student loans started to rise. By the 2010s, student loans and, therefore, student debt increased exponentially, causing a nationwide student debt crisis.
Because of this, over 40 million student borrowers in the United States are in a collective debt of around $1.59 trillion.
The growing student debt raises many moral questions regarding tuition fees and student loans. Should we expect students at college freshman age to effectively evaluate the consequences of a large loan?
It is also questionable that the average student will study effectively under the pressure of massive debt; Evidence shows that the performance of college students improves when there is less dependency on student loan debt.
Furthermore, the nation will likely not get the best use of highly-educated workers when they cannot allocate their skills freely. Severe debt drastically reduces the opportunity for innovation, resulting in a poor allocation of the country's brainpower. Today, the incentives (particularly financial) for college education are dwindling. A tuition-free college adds more incentives for students to attend higher education and allows highly-educated workers to contribute to the nation's economy effectively without the burden of massive unnecessary debt.
With the reallocation of tax funds towards universities over student loan guarantees, tuition-free colleges will be a net positive for the nation.
Not every student is suited for college. Reportedly, while 70% of students will attend college, less than two-thirds will actually graduate. If only two-thirds of students are graduating now, then once it's free for everyone, we'll have another problem: educational inflation. College degrees will decrease in value if everyone has one.
The value of anything is in its scarcity; once the demand is met for undergraduate degrees, the value will likewise decrease. This places a higher value on trade school certification. The demand is high, and the supply is low. For example, approximately 34% of college graduates are overqualified for their current position. Furthermore, those receiving a college degree without paying for it would value it less than the students who worked, took out debt, and paid their way through college. Tuition is only part of college expenses. Even if tuition were free, students would still be needing to pay at least $15,000.
Not everyone needs a college degree. Many people can afford it, so how free college would be dispensed, deciding who gets taxed, and where the cutoff lies would be a logistical nightmare. Eighty-five percent of first-time, full-time students attending four-year colleges receive federal aid. Parental income and savings cover 44% of college education costs and 83% of parents with children attending school pay for a portion of their child's education costs. Thirty-five percent use other savings or investments to fund their child's college education. If people can afford it, then the tax money would be better used on infrastructure or other underfunded government programs. As the phrase goes, 'there's no such thing as a free lunch,' and the same goes for college.