The United States has long offered free public education for K-12 through state and federal funding. Due to the increase in the cost of attending a two-year or four-year college, new ways must be created to help today’s college students get a higher education degree without incurring debt. Many college students leave college with student debt from loans taken to pay educational expenses. The average debt for today’s four-year college student is approximately $38,000. Seven out of ten (70%) of seniors in college graduate with this type of debt. Many are in default on their student loans. The chart below offers the different costs for the average college student.
Certainly, taxpayers will have to step up for this type of investment. As taxpayers have, traditionally, been willing to allow part of their taxes to go toward free public education for K-12, a new system that would contribute to plans for higher education would be a logical follow-up. As our society becomes more technologically sophisticated and globally tied together, twelve years is no longer enough of an education to work in careers which require higher level thinking and technical skills. Taxpayers realize that public services are, in fact, paid for through taxes: libraries, fire departments, police departments, and road work all are paid through tax dollars. Investing in higher education, for anyone wanting to go to college, will benefit communities through more people being employed, which in turn contributes to more tax dollars, and better public services for all members of society. More and more employers are seeking employees with greater skills than in the past.
With changes to the American economy, simply getting a high school diploma doesn’t go far in today’s job market. Employers in the United States are saying they need employees with more sophisticated technical skills, and they are harder to find, according to Goldrick-Rab. (2016).
Some administrations have attempted to help create new programs to allow postsecondary education for all. Under President Obama, a proposal was initiated that would allow the first two years of college to be free, guaranteeing a student could receive at least an Associate Degree. Even though this idea is a good start, it needs to also include more than community colleges or technical schools. Colleges or universities with degrees requiring four years to complete need to acknowledge and create programs of study that will give out a two year, or Associate Degree.
Another aspect of the two-year degree is daunting, daily tasks faced by many students. Often, these students are from low-income families, first generation college attendees, and working full time jobs. They may even have young children and need day care. Because of these issues, these students require more funding that just for tuition. They may need transportation, child care, or help with bills while attending school. Mellow addresses these issues. “As open-access institutions, community colleges educate the majority of our country’s low-income, first-generation students. But public funding for community colleges is significantly less than for four-year colleges, sometimes because of explicit state policies.” (Mellow, 2017). Public funding needs to be increased for two-year colleges in proportion to four-year colleges, due to the problems faced by non-traditional students and students in unique situations.
Based on an article in The New York Times, Mellow, 2017, the typical college students today include 50% of students living at home, while pursuing a degree; 40% working at least 30 hours; 25% working full time and attending school full time. Because of these statistics, when legislatures or colleges create programs for money to attend college, they must accommodate the changing culture of college students. Data further shows that even a two-year degree will improve a person’s income by 20% above what a high school graduate earns. This data can help inform decisions by legislatures to create programs which will help people not only to get into college programs, but also to complete them.
Some states have implemented scholastic programs to help students with college expenses. Maryland, New York, Colorado, Connecticut, California, Philadelphia, Missouri, and Kentucky have schools which offer free tuition. Within those states, there are 11 schools from which to choose. New York is one, with Governor Andrew Cuomo initiating a program to provide tuition for residents earning less than $125,000 annually. This is called the Excelsior Scholarship Program.
An interesting example of free tuition is Berea College in Berea, Kentucky. Berea College offers a Tuition Promise Scholarship. They will help students with grants and subsidies, but also guarantee financial assistance from alumni, friends of the college, organizations, and all who believe in helping people achieve their potential. Berea is a Liberal Arts college located in Madison County, Berea, Kentucky. They even have a saying, “Berea offers the best education that money can’t buy.” Their history indicates that the college developed as a way to build a healthier generation of families in central Appalachia. There are many opportunities for their students to volunteer within the community through tutoring, mentoring, helping with many programs designed to help the community. Berea College requires all students to work 10-15 hours per week in approved jobs on campus or in the community while carrying a full academic course load. These work experiences provide tremendous opportunities for students to work in major related areas and to develop soft skills that future employers are looking for. (Berea.edu).
On the other side of the argument for free tuition we find those who would argue it will increase taxes and not be fairly distributed. According to Samuel Goldman in “In the Problem with Free Tuition”, he argues that many of the European models of free tuition come with a “stripped down” college experience. For instance, in Germany the free tuition model does not include “sports, dorms, special foods and amenities, extracurricular activities, academic remediation, and flexibility in majors”. (Goldman, 2016).
In conclusion, Goldrick-Rab writes, “Recent research, she suggests, demonstrates that ‘if you view the future opportunity for college as open and affordable you exhibit more effort in high school’.” When high school students begin to understand and see the possibilities of furthering their education, they will work harder in high school to prepare for college. Providing free access to higher public education will enhance all the lives of students wanting to further their education and society in general. This will lessen the need for taxpayer dollars to be paid on welfare assistance and prisons. When people are educated and able to earn a living wage for themselves and their families, crime goes down, and the need for welfare goes down. Educated people, gainfully employed, will continue the cycle of paying taxes for better public services.
- Berea College. Admissions website. 2017. Retrieved from: http://www.berea.edu
- Goldman, Samuel. “The Problem with Free College”. The American Conservative. February, 2016.
- Goldrick-Rab, Sara. “The Economy Needs More Workers with Associate Degrees”. Education Next. Winter 2016, Vol. 16, No. 1.
- Mellow, Gail. “The Biggest Misconception About Today’s College Students”. The New York Times. August 28, 2017.
- Steinhauer, Jennifer. “The Telltale Data That Can Identify College Students at Risk”. The New York Times. June 4, 2016.