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The debate on whether college education should be free is a heated one, with both sides coming up with convincing arguments in support of their opinion. There exist many varied perspectives with divergent views on the matter. Affordability of education is one of the major issues that inform public debate and is often addressed during presidential campaign seasons. Why is there a non-unified view on the matter, one may ask? Considering education is highlighted as a right in the constitution, then the expensive state of college education in America seems to be in violation of human rights. On the other hand, the cost of running free education while maintaining quality is relatively high and has to be sourced from taxpayers. This article will explore issues arising from conversations on free college education, including opinions for and against it, before giving a conclusive opinion.
World over, education has been perceived as an equal opportunity giver to persons of different classes, races, and incomes. Over time, the cost of pursuing education has greatly increased in The United States. Findings have reported a more than 150 percent increase in education costs over the past 40 years. While it could cost an average of 8,180 dollars for a degree in a public school, it is currently approximated to cost 20,770 dollars (Song 1). These projections keep rising yearly especially with increased inflation.
Currently, society demands specific technical qualifications and a college degree for job openings. A report by the Centre of Education and the Workforce, projected that there could be 55 million job openings through the year 2020 (Carnevale et al. 3). While this could have been hampered by the prevailing Covid-19 pandemic, the projections were almost accurate. They reported that more than 35 percent would require at least a bachelor’s degree. A college or an associate’s degree would be required in 30 percent of the jobs while 36 percent would not require education beyond high school (Carnevale et al. 5). It is in the light of these statistics that the value of college education in the changing job market is visible. A free college education could give students opportunities to attain these qualifications.
There are people who have made particular calls for the government to provide a free college education. Lawmakers such as Keith Ellison a former U.S. Representative for Minnesota’s Fifth Congressional District and current attorney general of Minnesota have argued that the soaring tuition and student loan debts are placing education beyond the reach of many Americans (Elisson 1).
‘If the nation can provide hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies to the oil and gas industry and billions of dollars more to Wall Street, we can afford to pay for public higher education. A tax on financial transactions like derivatives and stock trades would cover the cost’ (Elisson1).
Some scholars have argued that free college education would benefit society at large. If left to market forces, there is the likelihood of the economy suffering from under-skilled graduates (Tejvan 1). Additionally, a college education would become a preserve for the affluent.
On the other hand, others argue that college should not be free as the direct beneficiaries are the students who will eventually earn better-paying jobs from their education. As such, a free college education would be a burden to people who do not gain directly from it.
Considering the different perspectives given on why college should or should not be free, this article first explores the positive outcomes likely to result from free college education:
1. To assist low-income students to afford education opportunities
Over time, many students, particularly those of color have dropped out due to a lack of funds to facilitate their studies. By making education free, a lesser burden is put on these students, and thus they can focus on pursuing their educational goals and improve college graduation rates without necessarily taking a break.
A huge number of college students get jobs to pay for their education. Whenever this source of income is interrupted, students have to interrupt their learning until they get another source of income. A free college education would mean students do not have to worry about making money; hence they will focus more on their education.
2. To reduce the student loan burden
The current student loan burden is a key issue in the United States. It is reported that the loan burden currently sticks at about 1.6 trillion dollars and is rapidly increasing (Kaur 1). Most of these loans usually are spent on books and college living expenses. Soon after graduating, students are faced with huge loans to be serviced at the expense of other necessities like decent housing. These debts crushing the young generation further hurt their contribution to the economy as they can afford to spend only so little as the burden is just too much. In addition, the interest rates accumulated through student loans puts them in more debt meaning it will take more time for them to dig themselves out of this situation, further hurting the economy.
3. It guarantees students freedom
Students are currently faced with the reality that they have to major in lucrative courses that are more rewarding or promising career-wise. STEM, Healthcare Professions, Healthcare Support, and Community Services are projected to be the most lucrative fields that will need college (Carnevale et al. 6). Burdened with the need to pay back loans as quickly as possible, they are often quite practical about their pursuit of specific fields. Such fields that they deem non-lucrative are therefore likely to suffer. Furthermore, in pursuit of such majors that are not generally a student’s interest, they are likely to suffer from burnout and fatigue in the job. Making college tuition-free can help prevent such issues.
4. College enrollment will increase
By the fall of 2020, it is approximated that about 19.7 million students were to join colleges and universities (National Centre for Education Statistics). This number could likely increase only if hurdles such as the high education cost were cleared from students’ paths. As a result, the country would have an educated workforce which could result in improved performance, outputs, and innovation in all fields of the economy.
5. Economic Benefits
There are several economic benefits to free college education. As the cognitive ability theory suggests, ‘people’s competencies are decisive of economic wealth’ (Rindermann 109). This means education competencies such as skills and knowledge can build wealth. For starters, there is a decreased wage gap which ensures more graduates can save and spend on investments and assets rather than servicing their loans. Increased rates of employment from education also magnifies the number of people that pay taxes, further boosting the economy. From all the economic contributions of free education, the country might experience an increased GDP.
6. Societal improvement
People who are more educated make better problem solvers, meaning it increases the chances of society progressing much faster. In his 1984 research, Robert Glaser successfully linked problem-solving skills to the acquisition of domain-specific knowledge (Glaser 101). Additionally, people with a college education get better forms of employment hence supporting society economically. They are also more inclined to participate in politics and humanitarian work to improve society.
7. Increased equality
Free college education eliminates the aspect of affordability, which is a significant contributing factor to people not attending college. This means low-income households can send their children to get higher education, skills they can use to get jobs and help their communities. Therefore, free education is key in bridging the gap between social groups in society and increasing equality. Additionally, when more people have an education, they are paid more hence lowering the wage gap. Diversity in colleges will also increase, improving social equality in general.
8. Higher Technological Progress
A free college education is likely to speed up technological progress. This is because the possibilities of people inventing new things are increased with education. ‘In modernity, wealth depends on cognitive resources enabling the evolution of cognitive capitalism’ (Rindermann 108). Most of the most groundbreaking research in science that has led to important discoveries were done through college research programs. Free college programs ensure this is available to all interested individuals, guaranteeing technological progress.
On the flip side, arguments against the provision of free college education have also been tabled. Some of the most common issues raised against it include the following:
1. There is likely to be an overstretch in college facilities if free college is implemented. They will require additional facilities such as dormitories, classrooms, and equipment that need huge funding that would overwhelm other state programs.
2. It is also argued that the student loan repayment system is already kinder compared to other loan repayment systems. Graduates also have the prospects of better jobs and thus are supposed to be responsible enough for themselves. Subjecting other people to cater for their education at the expense of the beneficiaries is considered unfair.
3. The younger generation is also arguably going to miss out on learning experiences such as budgetary responsibility if they are offered free education. College loans are one of the first financial responsibilities that students are faced with and managing them well is likely to offer them lessons critical for their success in financial management.
4. There is the likelihood of increased taxation to cover the budget of providing free college education. What is of concern is who will bear this burden and at what expense? The government may cut services to other programs to help fund free college education which may shift the burden to other vital organs thereby transferring the problem. Placing such a burden on taxpayers for a program that only benefits a minority of the population is arguably wrong.
5. Another significant bone of contention is that education standards are likely to drop if college education is made free. Maintaining the existent levels will be difficult especially if colleges are to give the current levels of service to students.
Solutions to the Problem
At the moment, achieving free college education seems to be in the distant future. For that reason, students have implemented some cost-reduction strategies to minimize their expenses for a college education and maximize their returns.
1. Minimizing the length of College programs
Reducing college length is another effective solution to the rather expensive college education. If you can complete a four-year program in two, then one can cut their expected expenses by half. According to statistics by the National Centre of Education Statistic, a quarter of students graduate within the four years that it takes to complete a degree, a majority of them being in elite private universities (National Center of Education Statistics n.p). This shows that most students take longer to graduate, increasing their cost of education. Since this seems to be a huge problem in public schools, the right agencies and bodies should work towards ensuring this is achieved.
Passing laws to implement free or low-cost colleges is the most preferred alternative. However, other forms of legislation such as those that lower interest rates of student loans or increase the time which can be taken to pay the loans could be quite helpful. The law is the best way to tackle such an issue that affects millions of students who are stuck with huge student loans.
3. Offering Options for Online Classes
Offering self-paced online classes could help students cut down on costs as well as finish their courses early and get credit as soon as possible. In addition, it allows students to take accelerated degrees or combined programs, hence completing school and graduating earlier.
4. Choose a college wisely
There is a significant disparity in different educative environments in the country. Since the college of choice plays a vital role in the charges the student will incur, this must be the first solution to the problem. For example, a student in high school can choose a college within their state that offers the course of their choice but is much cheaper. This is because most careers that require advanced degrees are dependent on standardized tests than the college in which the degree was acquired. Therefore, a college with an annual cost of $30,000 will offer the same standardized test as a college worth $10,000 a year.
5. Apply for scholarships or grants
The second solution to the relatively expensive college education is applying for grants and scholarships. Each year, there are billions worth of scholarships up for grabs. Any eligible individual should take advantage of this and apply for as many as possible. Students should look into grants and scholarships offered by federal and state governments, colleges as well as non-governmental organizations. Even though the process can be exhausting, it will be worth the effort when one completes college without a massive student debt weighing on them for the rest of their lives.
Much as different worthy discussions are revolving around the provision of free college education, I believe the benefits outweigh the cons of a free college education. Education should be a guarantee to every American regardless of their economic background. The system as it currently stands is discriminative to students from poor backgrounds considering the existing class inequalities in the country. Students of color are particularly likely to suffer the burden more than others due to the wealth distribution patterns that are existent. Free college education sets to ensure that the bias caused by institutional faults are reset. Just like other social programs provided by the government apply to all citizens, so should education. It is already provided for free in public schools and this should apply to college education too. However, there are concerns of the implications this will have on the quality of education due to saturation. In addition, since students are not paying, then the amount has to come from somewhere and the first guess is increased taxes. Lawmakers are supposed to be at the forefront of pushing this conversation as they are responsible for budgetary allocation. In my opinion, the funding for some programs such as the military can be cut or scaled down to afford funds for such programs as education remains a basic right and the greatest promise to the future of the American workforce. In the meantime, students can take approaches to cushion themselves from the excessively expensive college education in America.
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