Let’s Not Make College More Of A Debt Sentence

Christen Palange Published 7 Mar 2016

Why free tuition could make the situation worse.

Free college. That sounds great. It works in other countries. It would save students from the crippling debt sentence that is higher education. If you don’t believe it’s as bad as people make it out to be, here’s a friendly ticking reminder of what the college debt looks like right now compared to other debt.

As a college student, I would love to pay less tuition, but here’s why I cannot with good conscious support this:

Isn’t That What Got Us Here?

It’s a lovely idea: a government agency to intervene in the economy, giving people a better chance at reaching their goals and going to college. But, we already have FAFSA and a student loan process. Not only are these systems failing the average American, they’re also a MAJOR cause of the issue.

For those students lucky enough to get parental support, FAFSA tends to overestimate how much parents are able to give. For those students not receiving outside support, there are government programs that help close the gap (kind of). Unfortunately, as subsidies, these programs increase the demand and raise the cost of college, forcing students to take out more loans and go deeper into debt creating a vicious, and nearly inevitable cycle.

Many are speculating that the cost of higher education today is a bubble, much like the housing market in 2008. Both in part due to programs that had the best of intentions, but ended up costing Americans more than they saved.

So Is Free Education The Answer?

Sure, if the question is: How can we make the situation worse?

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As soon as something is free, demand increases, creating a shortage. Unless there is a plan to combat this, which I haven’t seen, college could become even less attainable than it is today. Remember this basic principle of business: there is no such thing as free. Free is just a way of saying, being paid for otherwise.

Maintaining The Incentive To Learn

Motivation on college campuses is diverse. That goes for all types of higher education institutions, including community colleges. You have students who are working hard, possibly paying for this privilege themselves, and striving toward something. There are also students who are not, outwardly, doing any of those things. So now, we make a version of college free. That’s fantastic for that first group of students, who are doing their best to put themselves through school. It won’t make any difference to the latter group, and it will just make life miserable for their peers.

I once had an adjunct professor who primarily taught at another school. She said that on some days she would look out at her classroom at the other college and think I don’t know who’s paying for your education, but they are not getting their money’s worth. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could ALL support those students’ education??

This leads to the issue of convincing serious students that this is a place to learn, and convincing serious professors that this is a place where they can make a difference.

I think most would agree that there is an issue here: the system is not always fair. It would be nice to put forward a solution where hard-working students can gain access to higher education no matter the circumstances. Unfortunately, free education sounds too good to be true. I don’t have a solution, so I may not have the right to criticize the solutions put forth by others. Also, I clearly did not cover every issue within the argument. However, I think most people know that there is no such thing as free and sometimes when you make something free it creates more problems than it solves. 

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