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Recently, politicians all across the United States have debated over the topic of whether college should be free or not. Although it sounds like an incredible idea, it definitely has its flaws. There are a variety of issues within the plan of erasing student debt, and creating a free-university system throughout the nation however, recently, the National Student Clearinghouse had completed a survey with data concluding that 47% of community college students dropout of school, and even more research shows that completion rates fall the less students pay towards the cost, hinting that free tuition across the nation may result in an increase in dropout rate. Along with an increase of dropouts, top universities will begin to overpopulate and teachers would begin to struggle. Not only will their salary be hard to pay, but the majority of teachers will end-up having classrooms filled far past capacity, which leaves students at a disadvantage.
As much as I love the idea of free tuition, as an out-of-state student paying over $36,000 a year, I can recognize the fact that it would never work. For starters, the most prestigious universities and highest-ranked party schools would be the top choices for incoming freshmen. The smaller schools, private schools and universities that aren’t known nationally would begin to struggle with student population. They would not be able to pay their staff, which leads to a massive loss of jobs throughout the entire nation. I, personally, can name over twenty colleges back home, in the state of Illinois that would shut-down as they are not widely-known nor recognized. While simultaneously, big schools like the University of Alabama, Harvard University, MIT, etc. would begin to be flooded with students. Not only would they not be able to house the students, they’d have to receive the funding to establish new buildings for classrooms and dormitories.. Where would that money come from if the students are not paying to go to school? The state’s taxpayers would have to pay for it, which would lead to residents of states with many big schools, to relocate to states like Montana, Utah, etc.
One of the biggest flaws in the proposition however is the degrading value of a degree in our country. If a bachelor’s degree is widely available to everyone, at any time, why would it hold anymore value than a high-school diploma? My guess is that it would eventually be roughly equivalent to a high-school diploma, and students would be funneling into the four-year university system just as they funnelled into high-school. It would just be another four-years of schooling, with insanely large classroom sizes, teachers with no-morale, and not enough dorm rooms. Professional jobs would then eventually have the minimum requirement as a masters degree, how would that work? Would doctoral and masters program also be free of charge? Would Americans eventually have to be a doctor for a basic sales job? Why not? It is free, so employers would expect their best potential employees took advantage of the free-education system and went as far as possible.If the schools are unregulated, free-of-cost programs will experience a type of “tragedy of the commons” in which overconsumption leads to a depletion of resources and subsequent rationing of courses and programs, due to students. When students are given the opportunity to attend school for no personal cost, they will find it easier to drop out of course, compared to if they had just paid for it. Psychologists refer to this as the “sunk-cost effect,” people who have invested anything significant to themselves, whether it be time, effort or money are more likely to complete the degree, fearing wasting finances, or their personal time. The idea of free-college sounds too good to be true, and that is exactly what it is.
However, there actually could be many improvements that would help significantly without making college completely free. According to The New York Times, ”Rather than free tuition, we need targeted policies that result in more money for need-based aid, from both public and private institutions, and from both state and federal governments. While lower net prices would reduce the need for students and their families to borrow for college, federal student loan programs will remain an important tool to improve college access. Even zero tuition wouldn’t eliminate the need for loans, since room, board and travel expenses would still be a constraint for some students.” I am a firm-believer this would help low-income students struggling to get their education, without depleting our entire education system.
The issue I believe that is often forgotten about when discussing the idea of a free-college tuition is, teachers. Educators in the United States are already incredibly underpaid. For example, at the University of Mississippi, there are several instructors in every department that are getting incredibly underpaid with the minimum salary of $24,000 a year for an instructor. This is a huge in America and large universities, as myself and several other thousand students pay almost $40,000 to attend this school. Even with the high-cost of school, a numerous amount of teachers are still not paid well. I know personally my EDHE teacher is a postgraduate student and she still has to work 3 jobs. That leaves me dumbfounded. If we aren’t able our instructors well, while college is insanely expensive, how will we pay for our incredible teachers when school is free? Where is the money going to magically appear from? If the states tax-payers are expected to pay for teachers salaries, people would begin moving to states with a low-populated colleges. Basically due to the fact that states that have large recognizable schools like the University of Alabama, University of Southern California, etc. will be in a lot of trouble when tuition is suddenly free and students begin to funnel into these large “dream” schools. Not only would colleges begin to overpopulate, but tax-payers would be required to pay for a massive amount of increase in teachers. The U.S already does not invest enough into our teachers, and free-college is basically taking a step-back from tackling that issue.
Another issue we would encounter is the loss of trades throughout the nation. According to The Washington Examiner, generation-z is joining trade-schools and programs at a remarkable rate. I believe this would come to an end however if college was free of cost however, as people that definitely should be trades, will begin to join the overpopulated schools for no other reason than it being free. This would absolutely kill the trade-field. Vocational schools would come to a stand-still with only a few students, and there would be job vacancies all over the entire nation.
Although I’d love to live in a fantasy world where free-college is an actual viable option, and it would work without any issues, I am able to realize how unrealistic that fantasy is. The United States would run into a countless amount of issues, whether it be underpaid teachers, overpopulated schools, demotivated students dropping out, or a decrease in students joining the trades. There are just too many flaws in this idea, and even if the college-system made such a detrimental change, it would devalue the bachelor’s degree, which would basically put all this hard-work to waste. Plus, there are a numerous amount of citizens who already paid an extreme-amount of money for their degree already, and in some cases, they paid it by themselves, how fair would this be for them exactly? Will the government refund everyone or? Andrew P. Kelly, resident scholar and the director of the Center on Higher Education Reform at the American Enterprise Institute, once stated “A valuable degree is worth the investment even if you have to pay something for it.” He took the words right out of my mouth. College should be an investment, not just another 4-years of public high-school.
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