Why Should College Be Free?

Should college be free? It’s a classic question with a complicated and arguably unclear answer. The affordability of college education as well as the current student debt crisis is always a key consideration. As with any major decision, there are pros and cons to why college should be free. Let’s break down the positives and negatives of tuition-free college.

Pro's of Tuition Free CollegeCon's of Tuition Free College
Reduces student debtIncrease in taxes
Improved college graduation ratesCollege may not be taken seriously
More freedom to choose a major you enjoyCollege education could decrease in quality
Allows more people access to collegeMore people would go to college

Should College Be Free? 4 Benefits

Let’s start off on the positive end of the spectrum when answering the question, “Should college be free?”

1. 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 current average is around $37,700).

However, students from other countries that already offer free college don’t have much student loan debt, if any. Most of their costs are living expenses, books, and materials.

Coins super close-up.

Flickr user J J

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, and take additional vacations. In essence, they could contribute more to the economy and it can have a wealth of benefits for the entire country including lower healthcare costs.

2. If College is Free, More Lower Income Students Might Graduate

Some students drop out because they do not have the ability to pay for tuition all four years. In fact, over 50% of students drop out of public universities because they can’t afford it! 79% also delay their graduations because they have to switch to part time or return at a later date due to costs.

Making college free would eliminate this reason for not graduating. This, of course, would improve college graduation rates, as fewer students would feel the need to drop to part-time status or take a break from education for financial reasons.

3. Students Can Have More Freedom to Choose a Major They Enjoy

Many students feel pressured to take certain majors. Whether this comes from their parents or society, cost no doubt plays a role. They might be worried about being able to afford student loan debt after graduation. This results in a lot of students opting for “practical” majors that are more geared towards income rather than their passions and interests.

If college was free, 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 – which can also increase graduation rates!

4. More People Would Go to College

By negating the large bill of a college education, we could see an increase in the number of students able to attend college. This then creates a more well-educated workforce, a population that has better critical thinking skills, and increased innovation across a number of industries and society as a whole.

Should College Be Free? 4 Downsides

There are a number of downsides that come with tuition-free college as well.

1. 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. It could impact the upper middle class as well as those in higher income brackets, or it might come from Wall Street speculation taxes.

If college was free, it has to come from somewhere and the uncertainty of who will pay is not making all Americans comfortable.

2. College Might Not Be Taken Seriously

A tuition-free college experience may result in some students not taking it seriously. Since it doesn’t cost anything, they might just sign up for classes randomly, rather than working towards a major. Others may switch their major constantly, study less, or just skip classes. It could be they’re simply not suited for college but were encouraged to sign up by their parents or they want to “get their money’s worth.” Some students really only find motivation at college because they realize how much it’s costing them or their family per class.

If too many students take this route, it can also suck up resources meant for more serious academics and, in turn, increase taxes.

3. College Education and Experience Could Decrease in Quality

With potentially less money going into colleges and universities, the schools may find it difficult to offer top quality to their students. Faculty and staff salaries could decrease, equipment may not be replaced in a timely manner, and the campus may not receive the upkeep it deserves.

Students, when they pay for college, are not only paying for their classes, they’re helping the school afford things like housing repairs, new library books and resources, and landscaping.

4. More People Would Go to College

The idea of college being free could actually decrease the value of a college degree. Since everyone can afford one, it may become more commonplace and could lower salaries for those who already have a bachelor’s. It could also lead to individuals working in spaces they’re overqualified for due to over-saturation or require those in certain fields to now get a master’s where it wasn’t a requirement before.

And colleges only have so much space! With more and more applications to schools, more students will be wait-listed and it could become more difficult to get into less competitive colleges.

If College Was Free, What About Private Institutions?

If college was made 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 colleges could force many private schools to close. This would reduce the amount of job opportunities for professors and could result in the deaths of many fantastic programs.

So should college be free? There’s a lot to consider and the answer isn’t as cut and dry as it may seem. Free tuition could definitely bring plenty of improvements to society. But, there are challenges that have to be solved before it could become a reality. What do you think? Let us know why you think college should be free!

21 thoughts on “Why Should College Be Free?”

  1. Jose Rodriguez Pizarro says:

    Excellent article!

  2. Hannah says:

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  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. John Smith says:

    really good.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. Ashlin says:

    Beautiful article!

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  14. Kha says:

    Personally I do not think that college free will make college become devalue. We all know huge benefits of getting bachelor’s degree. The more we learn, the more we earn and the higher the level of education, the lower the unemployment rate (Torpey, 2018). For instance, Torpey assums that median weekly earnings in 2017 for those with the highest levels of educational attainment—doctoral and professional degrees—were more than triple those with the lowest level, less than a high school diploma (2018). Although the cost of 4-year degree is increasing incredibly, people are looking for a way to make college affordable. Tuition and fees at a four-year public university averaged 9,410 dollars this past academic year (Anderson, 2016). Now a majority of Americans want to cut that price down to zero (Anderson, 2016). Sixty-two percent of Americans said that they support making public college tuition free for anyone who wants to attend (Anderson, 2016). Additionally, college free program will also have its own requirement and restriction. For example, according to Michigan State University website, a Spartan Advantage Program is offerred to cover all college’s tuition and fee for their students who can qualify their requirements such as being a dependent student, an entering freshmen with no prior college experience or a continuing student who received the award in the prior year, and eligible for the Federal Pell Grant. The most challenges are being a full-time students because they will not have an time extension to complete their education (Michigan State University). To illustrate, eligibility for the award is limited to 8 consecutive semesters, excluding summer sessions but including other semesters of non-enrollment (Michigan State University). After all, I think it is hard to keep the the plan on track all the time. Making an agreement to complete a bachelor’s degree on time of 4 years will be a big challenge. That requires students pay very close attension on their college and have a good plan to keep get a college free.
    Torpey, E. (2018). “Measuring the value of education”. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/careeroutlook/2018/data-on-display/education-pays.htm
    Anderson, T. (2016). “Over 60% of Americans back tuition-free college”. Retrieved from https://www.cnbc.com/2016/08/01/over-60-of-americans-back-tuition-free-college-survey-says.html
    Michigan State University, “Spartan Advantage Program”. Retrieved from https://finaid.msu.edu/spad.asp

  15. Bruhkit says:

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  16. Emma says:

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  18. Madeleiene says:

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  19. Ethan Campbell says:

    Replying to “The money has to come from somewhere”. Of course, the money would far more than likely come from taxes. This is simply commonly known. There are almost no other ways to raise the money. Therefore I would be forced to say that you are right. However, you are wrong to say that this would be a con. The money would indeed need to come from Wall Street companies and industries otherwise it would take at least 23 years to make up the $2.2 trillion in student debt, putting most tax payers into increased financial burdens. On the other hand, if we were to tax 0.05 % (50 cents per $100) on Wall Street stock trades, as Bernie Sanders wants to do, then we could raise $2.4 trillion in only 10 years. There is much more to discuss, but I’ve only researched this much so far.

  20. Sil says:

    People in Germany don’t have to pay for college and they know how to budget and buy things responsibly. My friend wasn’t able to go to college or my parents and they are good with money. I think life shows you how to be good with money or you are just bad with money and college will not help.

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