Designated Driver and I don’t always see eye to eye when it comes to questions of government spending, but I think he raised an extremely important and (to my knowledge) under-discussed point in his take on this matter. Whether or not a college education should be free has a lot to do with the return on investment for taxpayers and students alike. After all, what is the point of throwing hard-earned tax dollars into a broken system? Flooding the higher education system is no guarantee that it will produce a more productive work force. And getting a college degree is far from a guarantee that a decent paying job will follow. When you hear complaints about the job market from both employers and graduates, you know something is wrong.
Given the premise that the system is indeed as dysfunctional as Designated Driver suggests it is, it seems even more absurd to fund free college with tax money with the end goal of increasing enrollment! Dealing with what will likely be a massive boom in student populations won’t be an easy (or cheap) task for colleges and universities. How high will faculty costs soar? How much larger will class sizes be? Is inflating class sizes more than they already have been actually going to help students out overall? Will it, as Pappa Bear says, “water it down”? Is our infrastructure prepared to handle the increase in enrollment? Will a large increase in the number of eager young Americans brandishing bachelor’s degrees affect the significance with which we regard those very degrees? The practical problems we would face if college education became free are seemingly endless.
Though it hurts my heart to discuss education as though its sole purpose is to spin the cogs of the capitalist machine, I have to be honest; despite the noblest efforts of liberal arts professors, that is what college in America is. Like it or not. Even still, when considered purely on principle, this is a straight forward question. Of course public education should be free! You would have to be an elitist prick to argue that one’s economic class should determine whether or not they should be able to access the primary means of upward mobility in this country that is the higher education system. We’ve all heard the stats about the difference in median annual income between high school and college grads. It is undeniably clear to anyone with a pulse that going to college drastically increases your odds of earning a much higher salary than you would otherwise. It’s not a matter of equality, but one of equity. Everyone should have proper access to the means of economic advancement.
Now some people might still argue that, with all of the loans and grants available, everyone actually does have access to higher education today. But let’s be real. For people working full time and struggling to stay afloat, getting a meaningful college education can require a person to shoulder superhuman responsibilities, but it is possible. You just gotta do what you gotta do. Just take out those loans. Who cares if you’re $60,000 in debt by the time you step off that stage? It’s an investment in your future and if you work hard enough, you’ll be able to pay it off when you get that high-paying job.
Oh, wait. Did I say when? I thought the system was broken. If Designated Driver is right on this, and I happen to think he is, then we have a major problem on our hands. To provide free education is to compel taxpayers to invest in failure. On the other hand, to keep the status quo is to expect some of the most marginalized, disenfranchised, and hardest working citizens of this country to risk money they don’t even have on an investment that is rapidly climbing in cost while even more rapidly declining in its promise to return.
I want to be clear, because I know at this point it might appear that I’m contradicting myself. If the system is broken and not worth investing in at all, then why am I suggesting that a college education is the primary means of upward mobility? An education can’t be both essential and worthless. Staying true to my background in philosophy, I’m going to do what all philosophers do when they find themselves in a jam: claim nuance and make distinctions.
Right now, in the real world, in America, college remains a necessary tool for the average person to earn a middle class wage. On average, this is the state of affairs that we can see today. Those dumbass graphics you see on Facebook showing all of the successful people who never went to college are the exception, not the rule. The viability of college as an investment is an entirely different beast. The riskiness of taking out loans for college is not a simple state of affairs, and cannot be averaged into simple statements that take into account all of the variable factors at play. What we can describe, though, are trends. Any Neanderthal who bothers to step out of his cave every once in a while can see that the value of a college degree just ain’t what it used to be.
My main point here is this: just because a college degree is worth less, doesn’t mean a high school diploma is worth more. It’s not crazy to suggest that a college degree is highly valuable relative to a high school diploma, but the college degree is less valuable relative to the costs of obtaining it. If that is true, then we are facing a situation in which there are no good alternatives for low income students. It only makes financial sense for the already well off to risk taking out high interest government loans with slimming hopes of easy repayment on the other side. I am not claiming any sort of causal connection between the soundness of the investment in today’s loan climate and income polarization, but the condition of higher education which I am attempting to illustrate makes a lot of sense in light of the widening income gap.
Holy shit. Have I digressed, or what? Should college education be free? I don’t know. This kind of problem requires a profoundly creative solution; one that accounts for all of the practical difficulties of funding it as well as the implications it would have on the value of education as a whole, but at its core seeks to achieve the highest standard of social justice. To come up with a solution like that, we’d need an army of highly educated individuals; ideally, ones with some personal experience of the challenges that face low income students seeking to further their education and move up in society. Hmmm….how can we get some more of those….?
By The Rightful Heir to all Shotgun Privileges
The level of education in this country is not nearly where it should be. In my personal opinion it’s not at an acceptable level. From elementary school through college, many students are not receiving the level of education that is required to turn them into contributing members of society. Why have anyone invest in a poorly run program?
It doesn’t make sense to me to give public colleges and universities any money when they spend millions on new sporting complexes while their students sit next to 300 of their peers trying to hear an overworked and underpaid professor. It doesn’t make sense to me to give public colleges and universities any money when students are arriving there incapable of writing a coherent paper. It doesn’t make sense to me that grad student’s are labeled TAs and then forced to teach an entire course. It doesn’t make sense to me that the country, the people, and the schools themselves, don’t prioritize the education of its citizens.
Should public colleges and universities be free? Absolutely. There is no question in my mind that all public institutions of higher education should be free. It is indeed a travesty that there are people seeking education and being denied that because of their financial circumstance. Furthermore it is not right that students that do attend universities must endure the stress and hardship involved in accepting loans that they may not be prepared to pay off.
What does make sense to me is finally making an effort as a country to show that we care about learning. What does make sense to me is making a concerted effort to better the education system in this country. But if the country expects that free college solves a problem that starts in kindergarten they are incorrect.
Currently the U.S. is ranked below many other first world countries in reading, mathematics, and science. Schools are churning out students barely capable of passing arbitrary standardized tests. Student’s are not taught how to think about things logically and critically. These students are turning into adults that lack these same skills. This country is filled with not just undereducated but poorly educated.
Making public colleges and universities free is a very doable and positive step toward trying to properly educate our country. But to properly take advantage of it, more of an investment needs to be made to prepare students for what awaits them at these higher learning institutions. Free college is but a first step toward reinvesting in our education. Schools on a lower level need more money, teachers, and supplies. We, as a country, need to reevaluate what needs to be learned by kids, and how to most effectively teach it to them.
I personally believe that if you teach a student to think critically, logically, and coherently, they will figure the rest out with greater ease.
The benefits of a nation of educated citizens speaks for itself, and pays for itself as well. Better and more widespread education leads to a higher proportion of innovators, entrepreneurs, and skilled laborers. It means fewer people making uneducated decisions. It means a greater proportion of education people in every field. It means the advancement of civilization as a whole.
Now, though I feel a bit dramatic and off-topic at the moment, I’ll try to veer back to the main question raised and respond to worries about the cost of making free public colleges and universities tuition free.
The fear of higher taxes is an unfounded one. A significant portion of state and federal taxes already go toward funding public colleges and universities. And even then the income that comes from tuition and fees generally makes up less than a quarter of a university’s overall income.
I’d also like to remind everyone that it need not be the common person that pays the tax to make college free. A fraction of a percent tax imposed upon Wall Street speculators would pay for free tuition for all of America. This may sound like I’m quoting Bernie Sanders, and I am, but the idea is not originally his and it has been put in place in several countries with great success.
Free public college is very possible and burden free. The benefit of having an entire nation educated at a higher level is immense. The potential for economic mobility it offers those that would otherwise not have options is incredible. The experience it would offer the country would be priceless.
By The Tragic Hero
Let’s clarify that when we talk about free education we are talking about state colleges and universities, not the private ones.
I do believe that every person in this country should have access to higher education. I also believe that we are stuck with the same standards of 100 years ago, where the only way for a person to be considered educated is to have completed a 4-year degree in a traditional college or university. So because I don’t believe in keeping the same standards, I don’t agree that our country should spend limited resources and provide free higher education to people. It would be investing in something that is broken.
The system is not working; students are coming out of colleges and universities with debt and not enough skills to be productive. A college degree does not assure anyone a job, nor does a college diploma make one employable. So while we are getting those results with a paying system, making it free won’t make the system better, it may actually water it down.
Another aspect where I disagree with free education is that while making an important aspect of society available to all, it does not teach the recipient the value of earning what you get. The students would have no “skin in the game,” no appreciation for what they are getting and society will have to pay for it in the form of higher taxes versus no proven return on investment.
My proposed solution to this issue is as follows: Make the first two years or the general requirements free to all students; that way we provide them an opportunity to figure out what they like and what they would like to pursue as a career.
For the next two years, the ones where you are studying for your major, make students pay for it; either by paying for it with their own money, getting loans and pay the loans like it exists now, or return the loan by working for a couple of years for the country paying back the loan.
Additionally, each major should have specific standards / curriculum that each class must have (across the country) in order to be considered to have mastered that course. Having said that, taking a class is not the only way to get credit for that class. If one can prove mastery in the subject, by taking a test, one gets the credits for that class. So if one can prove that one has all the required skills for a specific major, the student should get the degree regardless of how those skills were acquired.
In conclusion, just making programs free does not necessarily makes them better or more affordable. By affordable, I mean for society as a whole, and not only to the immediate recipient of the free program. Fix the way higher education is set up now, give access to everyone to higher education, and make students learn not only their respective interest but also the value of working for their goals.
By Designated Driver