Pros and Cons of Tuition-Free College

Save money by considering tuition-free college

Flickr user Nick Olejniczak

One of the center-stage issues of the 2016 presidential political season concerned the affordability of college education. Former President Obama tried to move forward on making community colleges free to eligible students, although we haven’t seen too much traction from that as of yet. Bernie Sanders’ platform upped that to making all public colleges tuition-free, and Hilary Clinton proposed making it affordable to those that need the help. As with any political or financial issue, there are pros and cons to it.

PRO: More Lower-Income Students Might Reach Graduation

Some students drop out because they do not have the ability to pay for tuition all four years. Making college tuition free would eliminate this reason for not graduating. This would also serve to improve college’s graduation rates, as fewer students would feel the need to drop to part-time status or take a break from education for financial reasons.

CON: The Money Has to Come From Somewhere

If America were to move to a tuition free college policy, where would the money come from? The short and simple answer is taxes. Who gets taxed seems to vary based on who is talking, but it seems certain that the upper echelons of American society will see increased taxes if this passes. There is a likelihood that it will increase the upper middle-class as well. Or maybe it will all come from Wall Street speculation taxes. The point is, all we know is that someone will pay these dues through taxes, and the uncertainty of who will carry the burden is not making many Americans comfortable.

PRO: Student Debt Will No Longer Crush the Younger Generations

If an American college student is able to graduate with less than $10,000 in student loan debt, they are considered lucky (the average is $37,000). However, students from other countries that have tuition free college have that luxury; most of their loans come from living expenses and books. Without the weight of student loan debt, more college graduates might buy houses rather than renting apartments. They might buy cars, spend more on healthy food, travel more: In essence, they could contribute more to the economy.

CON: Younger Generations Won’t Know How to Handle Finances

College is full of learning experiences, one of which is learning how creating a budget to save money. College loans are often the first major financial dealing that people work with. Paying them off in a timely manner proves you know how to budget your money, skills people use again and again when buying cars or houses. Without having to pay for school, that experience won’t exist, which might be trouble down the road for buying that house or car.

PRO: Students Might Have More Freedom to Choose a Major They Enjoy

Whether it is the influence of parents or knowing you need to pay loans back as quickly as possible, current students are often guided toward “practical” majors that have a more lucrative post-graduation income. If shelling out thousands upon thousands of dollars is no longer a factor, parents and students might feel more relaxed about studying for majors that don’t necessarily have a large paycheck associated with them. Interest and enjoyment from a field of study goes a long way in helping students stick with it and avoid burning out.

CON: College Might Not Seem As Important

If higher education at public schools becomes free, it might appear to devalue a college degree. It might also lead to students cutting more classes or not trying because they don’t have to “get their money’s worth” when they aren’t paying for anything. The current price of college drives students to complete their schooling as quickly as possible so as to reduce debt. Without that financial drive, we might see more laziness and lackadaisical behavior from our students.

PRO: More People Would Go to College

By negating the large bill of a college education, we could see an increase in the amount of students able to attend college. This then creates a more well-educated workforce and a population that has better critical thinking skills. This could lead to more innovation in all areas of society.

CON: More People Would Go to College

As enrollment at public schools increases, so do the fees. Either more money would have to be given to the schools, or they would have to create waitlists. This means that the taxes for education-related purposes might go up, or funding for something else (such as military expenditures) might be diverted to pay the influx of fees. In addition to this, the large amount of graduates might oversaturate some areas of the workforce, leaving even more people with degrees working jobs that they are overqualified for.

One Last Thought: What About Private Institutions?

If all public colleges and universities are made tuition free, we could see the decline of private vs. public schools. Since these schools rely on tuition, endowments, and alumni donations for a good portion of their funding, competing with free public schools could force many private schools to close. This would reduce the amounts of job opportunities for professors and could result in the death of many fantastic programs.

As of right now, tuition is still very much a reality many college-seekers have to face. Luckily College Raptor can help you discover personalized net price estimates as well as potential financial aid packages from colleges around the country!

Ellen Andersen

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10 thoughts on “Pros and Cons of Tuition-Free College”

  1. Jose Rodriguez Pizarro says:

    Excellent article!

  2. Hannah says:

    Very helpful for my research thank you I have cited you in my power point for school best one I have found with real info, once again thank you

  3. Shae says:

    This is a fantastic article! I love how it is split into pros and cons with a clear-cut and easy to understand format. The information is great as well!

  4. Tanner says:

    Very good synopsis. I appreciate how you did not exhibit any biases one way or the other.

  5. Nancy says:

    This is really helpful and so easy to inderstand all of this. It gives a good perspective when you put it into pros and cons and this is helping me on my essay a lot. Thanks so much.

  6. Nico says:

    Question: Isn’t the con about younger generations not know how to manage finances kinda biased? Just because tuition is free there are still plenty of other expenses like fees, books, meal plans, etc. And that’s not including the basic living expenses. So students would still have to budget, just one major load lifted but there’s still a cost of hundreds or thousands to be tackled. Just to address that tuition isn’t the only expense that makes college expensive

    1. Darcie says:

      You are missing the point. You do not take out a loan to buy books, or eat or drive your car. Student loans are a note. If a student manages their student loans successfully chances are they can also be trusted with a car note or house note in the future. Student loans are reported to the credit bureau. In a single semester an individual may receive a federal Perkins loan at 5% and one or two Stafford loans at 6 to 9%, and most likely an endowment loan from the school itself. All appear separately on their credit bureau. If a student does not maintain the necessary grades required, and or fall below part-time student status, the loan is due. If it is not paid then the student can not return to school. Nor can they get an official copy of their transcripts to transfer to a different school that may be less academically challenging.
      So, when it comes time to buy a house or a car or get a credit card, student loan history is a solid indicator of an individuals ability to manage the total package. As an executive headhunter, I can assure you it is a standard practice for companies to require a credit check as part of the screening process for employment. Your credit indicates how careful you will be.

  7. Ashlin says:

    Beautiful article!

  8. Kenny says:

    You are god sent! This is exactly what I need for my argument!

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