The debate as to whether or not public higher education should be free has been a highly contested topic in current political spheres. In the following articles, Sydney Stumpf has taken the supporting view, while Abhishek Rana has taken the opposing view. Let us know what you think about this topic by submitting comments below!

Yes: there should be free higher education. 

As a senior, college is pretty much the only thing on my mind. As of now, applications, acceptance and rejection letters are not the stressors in my life. Money is. I am not the only one either. Millions of students are gearing up and getting ready for college next year, many of whom do not know if they’ll be able to afford it. Private universities are costing upwards of thirty thousand dollars a year, and even public universities are increasing in costs. The fact of the matter is, so many people cannot afford higher education, and in a society where degrees are needed to acquire many jobs, this situation is not ideal.

Senator Bernie Sanders is a huge proponent of free education on the public level, and, I must say, I agree. Public Universities are universities funded by the government, not by individual donors and the institution itself. Public education is free on a K-12 level nationally, but why does free education stop at the college level?

I suspect that college is not free already because of the added costs of keeping colleges and universities open, as well as paying professors’ salaries on top of the salaries of K-12 teachers. In short, what free college education would mean for the government is higher taxes. Similar to free healthcare in Canada, however, these higher taxes, although not ideal, are supporting a bigger cause for the greater good of society. It should make sense that everyone pays a little bit more in taxes in order for students to have the opportunity of an education. These taxes would be an investment in the future of America.

Republicans are avidly against raising taxes, especially on the rich. Most Republicans believe in a capitalistic society and believe that everyone makes their own money and is entitled to such, no ifs, ands, or buts. Sure, this makes sense in a perfect world, but the reality is, everything costs money and the people with more money have more access to education than do people who are not as well-off or wealthy.

This educational and economic divide is creating a cycle in which students are unable to go to college and may not be able to get as high paying a job, thus putting their children in their same shoes. The United States should want nothing more than to give everyone an equal opportunity to succeed, but the mere fact that public education on every level isn’t free shows that education is not a high priority for the government.

Countries such as Germany, Finland, Norway, and Sweden all offer free public university tuition to their citizens because they understand that paying thousands of dollars for college is discouraging to students who want to pursue higher education (Bernie Sanders). The same cannot be said in the United States. So many students decide not to go to college because it is just too much money for them to pay. Instead, they work retail, they work in entry-level jobs and continue doing so for years.

Those who are fortunate enough to be able to attend a college or university are often left with years upon years of debt and student loans, leaving them in a bad position financially and credit wise. Student loans and student debt is a looming rain cloud over graduates’ heads. Public universities are often seen as a financial safety net, but with continuously rising tuition costs across the board, they may not be for much longer. Eliminating tuition for public higher education will, in effect, eliminate the student debt of many students, though not all. Eliminating tuition on public higher education will allow students new opportunities to progress their learning and contribute to national and individual monetary gains.

Making public universities tuition free is absolutely the most logical and moral choice the federal government can make. With a more educated workforce, economic growth will be so much greater than the amount of money being spent by taxpayers on free universities. As tuition rates continue to rise, it is more than likely that the number of students attending college will drop significantly over the next ten years unless something is done. Free public higher education is not only an investment in students’ lives but an investment in the United States of America.

No: There should not be free higher education. 

As the prospect of higher education looms closer and closer for high school seniors, so does the reality for many of facing massive debt in the future. With this in mind, it might seem to many that free tuition for state colleges is a great idea, with many endorsing the movement do so. After all, free public schools already exist in the country for K-12, so why not post-secondary free public education? Well despite this seemingly noble idea, there are many reasons why free tuition is not the answer:

  • Who is paying for it?

This is the main misunderstanding of most people as it pertains to free college because, technically, it will not be free. What so-called “free-tuition” does is, instead of making an individual pay for his or her college education, it makes everyone else pay for each others’ tuition. In addition, what many fail to realize is that a college degree on its own has little to no value. The value of a college degree is what an individual makes out of it. In contrast, when a bank loans an individual money for a house, the value of the loan is that house. This is not the case for a college degree because the loaner has no value with someone else’s degree. So what a loaner can do is make calculated risks. Students majoring in a field such as computer science or engineering, where there are numerous career opportunities, are more likely able to pay back their loans than students majoring in a field such as philosophy, where the career opportunities are limited in the 21st century. So why is this relevant to free college tuition? Because free college tuition does not mean that the “value” of all degrees will be the same and many students are no longer incentivized to choose majors that are beneficial to the overall economy.   

  • What happens to all those who are already in debt?

According to Forbes, there are currently 44 million students who are a combined $1.5 trillion in debt for student loans. What will happen with all those student loans? Are taxpayers going to pay for all of them, just the ones that are owed to public schools or none of them? Many point to the top tax bracket as the source to all the needed revenue, but according to NBC, the top one percent of taxpayers earn an estimated $421,000 annually— a lot of money, yes, but hardly the fortune that many presume. Furthermore, what many also do not realize is that the higher tax brackets already pay a majority of the share of the U.S income tax. In fact, according to the Tax Foundation, “In 2014, the top 50 percent of all taxpayers paid 97.3 percent of all individual income taxes while the bottom 50 percent paid the remaining 2.7 percent.” So, I return to the question of who would pay for subsidized higher education because what is proposed is nothing more than a redistribution of wealth.

  • College is not for everyone

What many do not realize is that higher education is not for everyone, not just because it is so expensive, but because not everyone's skills and potential is not best utilized in college. Alternatives like trade and vocational schools can be just as monetarily beneficial for some. However, “free tuition” would boost the demand for college meaning that many would choose higher education instead of acquiring a trade, even if their skills are best suited for that instead. In addition, to meet the newfound demand, taxpayers would be at an even further more of a burden.

  • What is the incentive for students and what happens to private schools?

The cost of tuition is an incentive for students to work hard and make the best out of the opportunities they have earned. However, when tuition is not a factor, the incentive is no longer present. What’s more is that when state schools are made tuition-free, what happens to private colleges? They simply will no longer have the same level of demand, which is bad for the overall quality of our higher education. Furthermore, since the government is paying for colleges, are we really comfortable with them running it too?

To recap, while “free college” seems like a good idea on the surface (looking at my future prospects in college, I wished this were true), it will create further problems that will only hurt students as well as the overall economy.

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