Point: Is Free College For All a Viable Future or Pipe Dream?

Cassandra Bristol, Opinions Editor

Education, especially college education, is becoming more and more of a necessity when it comes to the adult workforce. It seems evident that this necessity should be easy to access for all Americans. Yet, college tuition rates continue to skyrocket. If the United States supposedly prides itself on the doctrine of “equality of opportunity,” why is this obviously classist barrier to success permitted? College, no matter the type of institution, should be available to all, free of unnecessarily high tuition.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, “Between 2008–09 and 2018–19, prices for undergraduate tuition, fees, room, and board at public institutions rose 28 percent, and prices at private nonprofit institutions rose 19 percent.” And the further back in time one looks, the cheaper college costs get. This is due to many factors, such as access to federal financial aid and lack of new competition – all issues that stem from having a monopolistic system of higher education. In a society where a person’s graduation status could mean the difference between their dream career and a fast food job, it is nonsensical that college is somehow more inaccessible to more people nowadays than in the past (nces.ed.gov).

In a society with free college, individuals will have more of an incentive to get a degree in what they truly wish to study rather than what is more profitable. Think about it: if somebody was very passionate about art history, but had promising connections to an elite law school, which route would you recommend they take? Law school, because having a degree in art history pays far less than being a lawyer. Life is tough, sometimes you have to give up on your dreams to survive. But it doesn’t have to be like that. With a truly even playing field, students won’t have to worry about finding an extremely high-paying job just to pay off their student loans for decades. The job market will adapt, and the workforce will be more driven, more diverse, and generally more content with their lives. Senior Alex Wicklund said, “I believe that free college is a right that everyone should have. It works well in other countries, so we should have it here to invest in our futures for a better tomorrow.”

Free college has shown success in many other countries. According to the Washington Post, “In Finland, Denmark, Ireland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, [Germany] and Mexico, public colleges and universities remain tuition-free.” Over 4,600 American students travel to school in Germany every year, where college is also free for international students, indicating the sad reality that it’s cheaper or more rewarding for many college students to study abroad than in their own country. With America having one of the most powerful economies in the world, why is it that the workforce behind this economy is often being driven out of the country in search for an affordable education? Even within the frame of a capitalist worldview, it seems obvious that moving towards free college will make us much more up to par with our economic competition (washingtonpost.com).

Probably the single most common response to the idea of free college is something along the lines of, “That sounds peachy, but I don’t want my tax money paying for other peoples’ tuition.” Well, I hate to break it to you, but a lot of your tax money is already going to public colleges. According to a government-run data lab, in 2018, higher education institutions received 1.068 trillion dollars in federal aid (and yes, this aid comes from taxpayers). If implemented in a way that did not raise taxes for the poor and middle class, rather large corporations and the 1 percent, income tax would likely not budge for the average citizen, and the lack of student loans will save every person money in the long run (usaspending.gov).

Admittedly, college is not for everyone. Some people prefer trade school, or jobs that require experience rather than study in general. But a reality with free college is a reality where those people can flourish alongside those who seek a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate. A reality with free college is the only path to making the U.S. education system truly equitable.