The Debate on Whether College

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The debate on whether college tuition in the United States should be free is continuing to gather more attention. More people are attending college as compared to before because the need for a college degree has increased, with most jobs having a degree as a minimum requirement. Education is the key to a better life not only because of the financial benefits but also because of the values and experiences that are acquired within the system. Low-income students are having to drop out or not attend college due to the inability to afford the high cost of tuition.

Many students graduate with tens of thousands of dollars of debt trapping them for decades in a financial crisis. Providing free or low-cost tuition will allow every student, regardless of background or socioeconomic status, to focus on school instead of worrying about where to get the money for their next semester of college. It is a matter of fairness and equality to every person in this country to have the opportunity to earn a college degree in order to open the doors to better career opportunities, higher income, job security, and happiness.

Initially, there was a time that college education in the United States was free. The Morrill Act of 1892 specifically set a precedent for the building of colleges on federal land so that tuition would be free (Wittner). This act was implemented to open opportunities for thousands of working people who had been excluded from higher education due to cost. But as college enrollment increased over the years, it became important for tuition to be reinstated because funding from the government was no longer sufficient to run colleges. Additionally, the Morrill Act was implemented to ensure that students of all classes have the opportunity to attend college. Therefore, it was an important factor of national unity, as it was an approach that showed acceptance to all individuals. For this reason, the elimination of tuition will be a demonstration of the practical approach towards uniting the country's social classes.

The affordability of education is a key issue that needs to be given a broader consideration, especially for low-income students. Today, despite the financial aid some students are given, it's still increasingly hard for them to pursue higher education. The astronomical costs to attend a college goes beyond tuition. It includes college fees, room and board, books, meals, and transportation that most financial aid does not cover. Current statistics show that tuition at four-year public colleges amounts to 71% of the earnings of low-income families compared to 5% and 19% of upper and middle-class families (Banerji3). Making college unattainable to low-income students will lead them to a continued life of poverty, low paying jobs, unhappiness, and will lead the country into a weaker economy and society.

Currently, there are student loans that help low and middle-income students navigate this problem. However, student loans have become an enormous burden to students. As stated by Mark Kantrowitz, more than two-thirds of college graduates graduated with debt, and their average debt at graduation was about $35,000, tripling in two decades. With a highly competitive job market and starting salaries averaging $45,000, it would take a minimum of ten years to pay off the debt, and leading many to a financial crisis. Also, students who graduate with large debt most likely delay purchasing homes, cars, travel, entertainment, getting married, and having children because of their loan debt.
Additionally, statistics show that students are more eligible to get well-paying jobs with a college degree. According to David Leonhardt, Americans with four-year college degrees made 98 percent more an hour on average in 2013 than people without a degree. That's up from 89 percent five years earlier, 85 percent a decade earlier and 64 percent in the early 1980s. This estimate dictates that to secure a stable future, a college degree is a necessity.

Therefore, with free or low-cost education, more people will be able to attend college, and in turn, more young adults will be able to secure well-paying jobs. As a result, this will significantly improve the country's national economy as students will be contributing more in taxes and will be less likely to need government services than those who only earn a high school diploma.

Comparatively, in Germany and many European countries, tuition is free or very low-cost. The success of these foreign countries should be a model for all other countries to follow, including the United States. As Jon Wiener mentioned, protest and politics are what made Germany be a tuition-free country. Its citizens took it upon themselves by organizing groups with student unions, trade unions, and political parties. They voted in politicians who promised to eliminate tuition, and those who were against it were removed from office. Higher education in Germany and many other countries is controlled and funded by the government. Some have increased taxes to provide the funds while others allocate a sustainable percentage of their budget to education and implementing a college tuition gap. Proponents of debt-free college in the US want policymakers to look how some these foreign countries have successfully been able to provide free or minimal cost higher education, and how the same could be done here in the US.

People on the opposing side are worried about many negative issues that could result from offering a free or low cost higher education tuition. They strongly believe there is no such thing as a free tuition. It will come at a cost, and most likely it'll be to taxpayers. They also feel it's unethical for the government to pay, for example, for room and board for people to get educated when people who choose not to go the college route have to pay for housing. They see it as an unfair situation. However, their main concern is where the money would come from. So far, all discussions have been centered around raising taxes, more specifically to the rich and upper-middle class or cutting other major programs. Having taxpayers pay for it doesn't sit well with many people. It would also not be fair to place the burden of paying for a college education on taxpayers back when not everyone attends college, and many drop out at high rates while receiving plenty of financial aid grants, scholarships, and loans available.

After all, college attendance cost is increasing extensively at a rate far surpassing inflation, and the tax imposed allocated funds may not be sufficient to cover the cost with a guaranteed sizable increase in attendance. How are these funds going to sustain increasing enrollments with the likelihood of waiting lists of students trying to get in? Another vital concern is that studies have shown that students who receive some sort of financial aid tend to drop out more than students who do not receive any, and with free tuition, it'll only lead to a higher increase in dropouts as students will not have the financial incentive to finish their education. This would likely lead to a downward economic spiral.

Opposers also say it's absurd to think that quality education could be provided for students for free. It'll hinder many institutions in making a profit and if lucky they'll only cover their operating costs. This will prevent them to re-invest in their programs and improve their standards, and many will likely end up having to close their doors causing a significant decline in high-quality institutions available for students to attend. Leaving a nation that has always been known as a top higher education system in the world to crumble and making it undesirable to international students who contribute billions yearly to our economy. Overall, it's imperative for students to have responsibilities and the burden is on them to follow through with their obligations. Finally, opposers believe that free tuition will attract a lack of motivation to finish a degree since students know they can always come back at any time with no consequences. Providing free or low-cost college tuition is no doubt a complex issue with many concerns on both sides.

Opposers of it have some solid concerns, but with a well-thought-out plan backed by strong accountability, efficiency, and equity systems that would hold individuals responsible if expected outcomes are not met would ensure that every American citizen would have the opportunity to reach his or her full potential. This is what the United States is about, equality for all regardless of background, race, gender, religion, and socioeconomic status yet equality has been nonexistent in higher education for the low and middle-income individuals. Without this opportunity, it'll lead America to be more socially divided.

Ultimately, each young adult and specifically Americans should have the ability to perfect his/her talent and ideas and pursue a life that is fulfilling. The elimination of college tuition will guarantee this, as more people will be able to pursue their dreams and ambitions. This will lead to happier people and consequently a positive impact on the prosperity of the nation. Moreover, this will enable most students to focus on their education rather than ways of survival, as a majority of students work to sustain themselves. This puts a strain on their academic lives because they are always worried about how to survive. Free tuition will enable students to focus on their studies. Therefore, more students will graduate in time and start contributing to society. As a result, the nation will thrive as a well-educated society.

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The Debate On Whether College. (2020, Feb 26). Retrieved June 21, 2024 , from

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