Should college be free?

By: Isaac Lund

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In one of America’s most heated debates right now, a definitive answer hasn’t been easy to come by. The price of college education, and whether tuition should disappear altogether, is an ongoing discussion amongst legislators.

Opposition to this idea is steadfast in its beliefs, and this conservatism doesn’t come without solid reasoning. Those against free college say that it will decrease effort and completion rates among students. With current tuition being so high, students need to put in effort to receive scholarships and then continue their hard work through college so as to not waste their time and money. With tuition being entirely free, and thus free retakes of any course, pressure to perform will go down, and overall effort will as well.

Another downside of free college is that, unavoidably, taxing will increase. Public education is paid for mainly by property taxes, meaning all property owners — including those without college-age kids, those who already paid a complete tuition before reform, and even those who never have and never will obtain a college education — will shoulder the burden of this “free college” system.

Additionally, free college would likely cause a drastic decrease in skilled workers coming from trade and vocational schools.

Looking past these roadblocks in the free college system, there continues to be myriad reasons for the plan to be a progressive step in American society. Obviously, free college would increase overall enrollment throughout the nation. Also, it would help mitigate race and class inequalities that ravage the paid education system today.

A more specific example of the free college plan’s success was the Degree Project: a demonstration program started by Douglas Harris, in 2009, that offered half a district’s worth of incoming Milwaukee high school freshman 12,000 dollars of college tuition, given they graduated high school. Using anonymous data collection, these students were tracked throughout their college careers.

The study found that among students who met the requirements, there was a 25% increase in 2-year degrees. This is all the more telling because the money supplied was only enough to reduce a 4-year tuition, while it completely covered 2 years worth; this increase in 2 year degrees showed that free college was more attractive than even price-reduced tuition.

So, what’s the right decision? Do we vie for immense collegiate reform or do we stick with the system put in place long before our time, even with its faults? Even if the answer was clear, action is never so easy—especially with the abysmally slow decision-making evident in our bipartisanship.

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