Knowledge never stops feeding the soul. College is an important and often necessary pathway that leads many to great opportunities and success. Approximately 20.4 million people were expected to attend American colleges and universities in fall 2017, which is a 5.1 million increase since fall 2000 (NCES). These people depend on furthering their education to kick start their career. The argument on free tuition for public colleges in the United States has been a hot topic for several years. Surprisingly, no drastic change has been made to eliminate it. Obama did however push for national free tuition for the first two years at community college, the America’s College Promise, during his presidency. “The America’s College Promise proposal would create a new partnership with states to help them waive tuition in high-quality programs, while promoting key reforms to help more students complete at least two years of college. If all states participate, an estimated 9 million students could benefit (Office of the Press Secretary). As of today, the act has not been passed. In order for the America’s College promise to be made into a law, it has to be passed by the House and Senate, then signed by the current president. If college is essential for constructing a career and being a beneficial participant in our democracy, shouldn’t it be free, paid for by public dollars, and treated as a right? The removal of tuition initially sounds like it would be beneficial to many, but its downsides prove that free tuition is not what students need to further their education.
Those who think college education should be free in the United States have strong opinions on this proposition. There have been protests, like the Million Student March that takes place every year, where students in more than 100 campuses walk around their campuses to push for free tuition at public universities and the termination of existing student debt (Mulhere). These students believe that the cost of tuition plays a factor in the declining rate of graduation. When in reality, the graduation rate is rising. In 2015, the rate was at 46.5 percent, and in 2016 it was at 47.5 percent (OECD). The small one percent rise is better than no growth at all. The protesters also argue that the debt makes students drop out before graduating. This reason does hold truth, as in 2016, 2.5 million undergraduate students that attended public community colleges and four-year universities dropped out with an average debt of $6,871 (College Scoreboard). They also believe that the stress of having to work and attend school full time, can play a factor in students failing, and eventually not returning to school.
Free tuition would allow students to completely focus on their studies without having to work full-time. Students who work long hours may not be able to go to school full-time, so they would be ineligible for grants. In response, they are forced to pick work over furthering their education. If they had the opportunity to attend school without worrying about tuition, they would avoid large debts, that may take a long portion of their lives to pay back. With students focusing on their studies, the graduation rate should be expected to rise. An additional benefit would be that the abolition of tuition in the United States would put the for-profit schools out of business. For-profit schools currently enroll approximately 12 percent of American college attendees, which equates to about 1.7 million students in total (NCES). For-profit schools are controversial, as many believe that these institutions don’t provide students with quality knowledge or the real job skills needed to succeed.
It is possible that making college tuition free can have negative effects on the United States. Among the most developed nations, the Group of Seven, those where students are charged tuition (Japan, 60.1%; Canada, 60.6%; United Kingdom, 52%; United States, 47.5%) all have higher levels of post-secondary educational attainment than those where tuition is free (France, 44%; Germany, 30.5%; Italy, 25.6%) (OECD). The low graduation rates of France, Germany, and Italy can be blamed on the exile of tuition. Because students no longer paid to attend, the colleges would have had to rely entirely on government funds and private donations. Schools suffered greatly, as aspects of the campuses such as the maintenance of the buildings, and extracurricular activities were put on the back-burner. If public budgets fail to keep up with the rising costs, colleges may be forced to limit the number of students they can accept. This would heighten the competition for spaces and could could force out lower-income students from institutions that now accept them. It is also important to note that the majority of low-income students already pay no net tuition to attend college, yet only about a third graduate within six years (NCES).
*The bars in color are the countries I referred to.
Although many believe that as a united nation, it is vital that the United States allow everyone an equal chance to further their education, is it truly worth the downsides? I was 100 percent for free tuition at first, but the more I researched, the quickly my mind changed. Tuition should be vastly lowered, but not completely free. A more rational approach would be to put the spotlight on providing more grant aid for low-income students. In 1984, the average tuition fee in public institutions was $3,408. In 2015, the average was set to $16,188. That is an outstanding 475 percent increase (NCES). This goes to show how out of hand the inflation of tuition has gotten, and how difficult people may find it to return to school. Yet, the 2014 average grant and scholarship aid granted to low-income students who have an income between $0-$30,000 is $6,790. This is alarming because the average grant and scholarship aid grant to those with the same income level in 2009 was $5,980. That is a 1.1 percent increase (NCES). It is clear to see that the amount of aid granted is not keeping up with the tuition increase. If tuition is not lowered, schools need to give more money to their students. This solution won’t be a fix for every single student, but it would help keep more students in college and encourage people to enroll. An increase in enrollment will provide the government with more funds which can in turn go back into the schools. Everything would go full circle.
“College Scorecard Data.” College Scorecard, U.S. Department of Education, 19 Dec. 2017, collegescorecard.ed.gov/data/.
College Scorecard is a website created by the United States government. College Scorecard provides data documentation for comparing the quality and cost of higher education institutions. The file must be downloaded. This was the most updated information I was able to find on student debt.
Mulhere, Kaitlin. “College Students Protest for Free Tuition, No Student Debt.” Time. 12 Nov. 2015, <http://time.com/money/4110102/million-student-march-protest-high-tuition-student-debt/>.
Though this is not a scholarly journal, I wanted to include this article because it shows how passionate students are about the abolition of tuition and student debt. The Million Dollar March was completely organized by students on social media. Students who participated attend colleges from the west to east coast. They were also protesting for the minimum wage to be raised to 15 dollars, but I excluded that information because it had no relevance to my topic. The author, Kaitlin Mulhere, is only a reporter stating the details of the march, so I feel comfortable with citing this article.
NCES. “Digest of Education Statistics.” National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) A Part of the U.S. Department of Education, 2012 https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d13/tables/dt13_331.30.asp
The table on this page provides the statistics on the average amount of grant and scholarship aid given to full-time students. The average is listed by the kind of institution it is, as well as the income level of the students that received aid. The information on this chart is from the years 2009 to 2012.
NCES. “Fast Facts.” National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) A Part of the U.S. Department of Education, 2015, https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=76.
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) is a part of the United States Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences. The NCES collects and provides data pertaining to the statistics on education and information on public school district finances. The chart on the web page provides information on the costs of colleges and universities from 1984 to 2015.
NCES. “Fast Facts.” National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) A Part of the U.S. Department of Education, 2017, nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=372.
The data provided by the NCES on this page pertains to back to school statistics. It covers elementary to college and university education, but I of course only cited the college and university education statistics. Right after the line I cited, there is a link you can click that will open a more detailed chart of the information.
NCES, “Postsecondary Attainment: Differences by Socioeconomic Status.” National Center for Education Statistics, May 2015, nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_tva.asp.
The statistics I cited provide information of attainment rates based on socioeconomic status. There are three bar graphs on this web page. I only referred to the first two. The graphs are based off a study called The Educational Longitudinal Study. This study went on from 2002 to 2012.
NCES, “Undergraduate Enrollment.” National Center for Education Statistics, May 2017, https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_cha.asp.
The line graph in figure four depicts undergraduate enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions. It includes public, private non-profit, and private for-profit schools. This graph shows information from 2000 to 2015.
OECD, “Population with Tertiary Education”, The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2016, https://data.oecd.org/eduatt/population-with-tertiary-education.htm.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), founded in 1961, provides data and research on the economy, education, health, tax, trade, etc. 35 countries, including the United States, are current members of the OECD. On this web page, population is defined as those having completed the highest level of education based on age.
Office of the Press Secretary. “FACT SHEET.” National Archives and Records Administration, National Archives and Records Administration, 9 Jan. 2015, obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2015/01/09/fact-sheet-white-house-unveils-america-s-college-promise-proposal-tuitio.
The statement in this link was released by The White House. It explained Barack Obama’s new proposal on free tuition at community colleges for the first two years. It goes into specifics on his plan to turn this proposal into a law, and why it should be done.