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The Debate of Whether College Should Be Free in America

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With presidential elections coming up in a few years conversations about big political issues are starting to arise once again. One of these issues is whether making college tuition free nationwide would be a good idea and even possible. Candidates such as Bernie Sanders are pushing for it while others are completely against it. It gets us thinking, could and should the U.S really make college free? While researching the topic I came across a few different perspectives from different authors that I found interesting and quite convincing. It seems the biggest cornerstones of debate are where all the money is going to come from to make college free, and if making college tuition free would really help the underprivileged like intended.

The first article I read was For Public Colleges, The Best Tuition Is No Tuition by Robert Samuels. His main claim is that free tuition is easily doable and would be the best option for the US. He begins his article by mentioning Finland. Finland has one of the highest high school graduation rates in the world. Their education system is extremely successful, and Samuels believes the U.S should try and somewhat mimic them. Like mentioned before, when the topic of education is discussed the biggest issue seems to be about money and how we’re going to be able to afford making tuition free. Samuels battles those doubts with logic and points out how the U.S already spends nearly as much as it would cost to have free tuition as they do for the Pell Grant, student loans, financial aid, and other money spent towards higher education. This is a great point because it appeals to the government. By just giving each university a set amount of money and eliminating the other costs like student loans it saves them a lot of money by avoiding the cost of “nonpayment of loans, servicing and subsidizing them, and borrowers’ defaults”. The next thing Samuels does is say how flawed the system we use today is. Some people think the education system is doing well and doesn’t need change, but they are very wrong. In the last 3 years alone, it was proven that nearly a quarter of all education benefits were going to families who makes between $100,000 and $180,000 a year. The government says the benefits are in place to help everyone and assist low income individuals especially, but in reality, they favor the rich and divide the nation by keeping poor people poor. Samuel’s not only discusses those two main topics involved with free college (funds and the success of helping underprivileged individuals) but adds another really good point. He argues the main reason we should make tuition free is because higher education is needed for an effective democracy. Thomas Jefferson had said the exact same thing. If education wasn’t valued and there were only a couple individuals in power with a higher education the others would be somewhat brainwashed. We need to all think independently and thoroughly, understanding complex ideas. Lastly, the essay ends with “Recent research has shown that unequal educational attainment goes hand in hand with income inequality, as well as with higher rates of crime and lower health standards. In other words, the more public higher education becomes privatized, the more it becomes unequal-and the more society in general suffers”. I feel as this was the perfect ending statement and really encompasses all he believes.

The next article I examined was a direct contrast from the first article I read. It was “Free Public College Is a Terrible Idea” by Brian Rosenberg. The beginning of this argument the author somewhat rambles on about his own personal opinion without stating any facts and seems very pessimistic over the whole idea of free college. But then he gets into some very valid points. First of all, he points out that if tuition does become free every college is going to have a lot more applications than they already do so they will become drastically pickier. Almost all of the free tuition plans don’t address the admissions process and how it would be affected. While yes, the schools could in fact change and start allowing more students to attend, more staffing would be needed. And, with this tougher admissions selection it would ultimately benefit children who come from wealthy families and attend esteemed private high schools. The idea of free college is supposed to benefit everyone and make it possible for low income students to get the chance to attend university, but if the education isn’t equivalent from the start they’re still going to be negatively affected. Rosenberg also believes that if we make tuition free that the graduation rate would steadily decline because the “issue of inequality is too complex and deep rooted” to just be fixed with making college free. Rosenburg thinks the best way to try and combat all the issue would be to focus on making sure assistance goes to those most in need. The number one way to do so would increase the amount of the Pell Grant. The Pell Grant goes to individuals whose household makes less than $50,000 a year. Right now, the max amount someone could receive from the grant is $6,195. As we all know, this is barely making a dent in the cost of most colleges. Raising the amount of money the Pell Grant can offer would directly impact those most in need and affected by inequality, ending the divide. It would also be much cheaper than making college free.

Lastly, I looked at the article It’s Time to Push for Free College by Max Page and Dan Clawson. This article holds very similar ideas to the first article, The Best Tuition Is No Tuition. Page and Clawson believe in today’s day and age college is becoming a necessity, not just a luxury. With companies expecting more and more from their applicants someone without a higher education doesn’t stand a chance. Lower income individuals and rich individuals deserve an equal chance at success. While Page and Clawson recognize this huge divide between the economic classes when it comes to education, they don’t explicitly say that making college free would fix the problem. Their main ideology is that education is a right for everyone. The article also states that “new spending on public colleges, which would be sparked by an influx of more students, produces more economic activity than a similar-sized tax cut, or similar spending on roads and bridges. And, over their lives, college graduates smoke less, commit fewer crimes, draw less on social welfare programs, and generate more taxes”. Overall, higher education benefits the economy, the government, and every other aspect in life. So why should it break our banks and put us in crippling debt? The answer according to Page and Clawson? It shouldn’t.

Supporting education in our country is advantageous! And as stated in all 3 of the articles, the cost to place more of an importance on higher education is affordable for the US. Whether it be making tuition completely free like Samuels, Page, and Clawson suggest or just by increasing the amount of the Pell Grant like Rosenberg suggests. Money, for once, seems to be the easy part of the problem. The United States just needs to allocate their funds differently. The trickier part in this whole situation is whether making college free would actually help those in need. Rosenberg’s claims state that making college free wouldn’t positively impact those who need assistance, it would only make many colleges pickier during the admission process. Samuel’s claims on the other hand show that most of the education benefits and grants as of today are going to individuals who don’t actually need the money. By making college free there’s no way it wouldn’t benefit those who can’t afford college. With a complex issue such as this one no one will ever be all on the same side of the argument. And that’s exactly what makes it so interesting to analyze.   

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