The Truth About “Free” College

by Kiran Subramanian ’21

Source: Washington Times

Published Mar. 1st, 2021

In recent years, the Democratic Party has moved towards offering students the opportunity to go to college for free. According to the 2020 Democratic Party Platform, “… we will make public colleges and universities tuition-free for students,” as well as, “support making community colleges and trade schools tuition-free for all students.” Even many moderate Democrats have moved in this direction. According to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 Presidential campaign, “Students should never have to borrow to pay for tuition, books, and fees to attend a four-year public college in their state under the New College Compact… Students at community college will receive free tuition.” 

However, the Democratic Party is moving in the wrong direction on this issue.

Firstly, when politicians talk about free college, what they really mean is taxpayer-funded college. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2017, only 33.4% of adults 24 and over had college degrees. Pete Buttigieg, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation, best expresses the irrationality of the situation by stating, “Americans who have a college degree earn more than Americans who don’t…As a progressive, I have a hard time getting my head around the idea of a majority who earn less because they didn’t go to college subsidizing a minority who earn more because they did.” 

Most people recognize that the cost of college has become very expensive over the past decade, but many people forget the cost of making college free. For example, the Biden campaign team stated on their website that Biden’s free college plan would cost around $750 billion. The price tag is already staggering, but it gets worse. Because the government is bankrolling colleges, they have no incentives to lower their cost. In fact, they have all the reason to raise costs to get more money from the government. This has already been shown. Since the 1940s, the price of college has skyrocketed, primarily because of laws, like the GI Bill, giving returning soldiers access to federal grants to go to college.

This grew even more during the 1960s and 70s, when according to the Foundation for Economic Education, “Congress passed and LBJ signed the Higher Education Act of 1965, which established several grant and loan programs to make it easier for students to go to college. In particular, the Act created what is now called the Stafford Loan program. Stafford loans are made by private institutions. The government sets the interest rate at a level that is supposed to keep higher education “affordable”—currently 6.8 percent. And to make these fairly risky loans interesting to lenders, the government guarantees repayment. Until recently, lenders could recover 97 cents on the dollar on defaulted loans.”

By covering the tuition of students, college will continue to increase their costs, thus burdening the cost either on the national debt or on lower and middle class Americans. 

Moreover, this government money is not even being spent on the quality of education. For example, Louisiana State University spent over $80 million on a new student recreation center with a lazy river spelling out LSU. Meanwhile, CBS reported, their ceiling tiles were falling down and the basement in their Middleton Library was flooded. With a guaranteed source of money coming from the government, these ridiculous costs and expenses are going to increase, even more, hurting the nation. 

Finally, the efficacy of free college seems lackluster. Again, when politicians talk about free college, they usually mean having the government cover tuition costs. However, this neglects other costs of college, including boarding, food, books, etc. In fact, in Sweden, a country that has “free” college, students still exited with around $19,000 in debt in 2013. Furthermore, when California created a free community college program, “… only 6% of all California community college students completed a career technical program and fewer than 10% completed a two-year degree in six years.”

After reading this article, some might wonder, “If the answer is not free college, what can be done?” There are a few solutions. First off, choosing a good major can be helpful. While it is important to have passions, if college is to be used as a tool for class mobility, choosing high-paying majors is key to better one’s economic status. To quote Ben Shapiro, editor emeritus of The Daily Wire, “… directing high school students into liberal arts majors with promises of big bucks in their future is a lie—and subsidizing that lie with government dollars doesn’t make it any less of a lie.” 

Secondly, Americans have to recognize that college is not the only path to success. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “… of the 30 projected fastest-growing jobs between 2010 and 2020, five do not require a high school diploma, nine require a high school diploma.” Rather than trying to force students into college through a top-down government scheme, allowing students to have more personal choice in their futures can benefit them in the long run.    

EDITOR NOTE: To get an alternative perspective on this issue, check out Evan Zilber’s article.

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