Most people can agree that a college education should be accessible and affordable for anyone who wishes to have one. Due to what many consider an educational crisis related to rising costs, there have been calls for free college tuition. The idea of free tuition would involve spending millions of dollars to send millions of new students to public colleges and universities. Implementing free tuition to make sure everyone gets a free ride would not guarantee graduation, nor a successful career, it would only increase the number of students enrolling.
Free tuition would not only devalue higher education in America, but it would also remove an important incentive for students to graduate. While very popular, the concept of free tuition would have negative consequences that would far outweigh any benefits.
On the surface, it seems as though free college education would inevitably improve this country. However, if more students start enrolling in college because it is free, the costs to cover all those tuitions would escalate.
Unless more taxpayers’ money is spent, the quality of higher education would suffer. This could end up decreasing access to good quality higher education rather than increasing it. If we examine the issue of public vs. private high schools in America, a gap in quality education can be observed clearly. Inequities just seem to increase while education quality continues to decline. According to the latest assessment from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) students attending private schools perform consistently better than those attending public schools.
By establishing free tuition, the value of public degrees would significantly decrease, and private colleges would begin to excel in comparison. This gap in quality would allow private universities to increase their tuition. A truly advanced education would be less available to the middle and lower class, creating an elitist system, the very thing proponents of free college are trying to avoid.
Another issue that needs to be considered is the high dropout rates in public colleges and universities. According to data provided by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) only about 59% of students attending a public four-year university graduate within 6 years of enrollment. In a typical two-year college, the graduation rate is even lower, only 24% of first-time, full-time students graduate within three years. Importantly, free tuition could potentially weaken students’ commitments, since the financial incentive to finish a degree will be removed. The results of a research study conducted by Benjamin Marx, professor of economics at the University of Illinois, and Leslie Turner, professor of economics at the University of Maryland, demonstrated that students who have the financial responsibility of their tuition tend to perform better than those who do not. Students who borrowed earned 3.7 additional credits and raised their GPAs by more than half a grade. Those same students were 11% more likely to have transferred to a four-year public institution, they also signed up for more classes and progressed further in school compared to students in the control group. The results suggested that offering loans can help more students succeed in school (Marx, Turner).
Making higher education more affordable and accessible is an undeniable necessity. A student should never be denied access to higher education due to his or her socioeconomic status. While most people can agree to the importance of higher education in America, establishing free tuition would not only diminish the quality of America’s higher education but also remove an important incentive that encourages students to graduate. Instead of blindly joining the free college cause, policymakers should look at ideas that would serve those students that need help the most.
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