A college is a facility giving people access to receiving higher education. Today, most jobs require a degree, and individuals without it have fewer employment opportunities. A good education has become a necessity for society as it opens many paths for building a career and making a living. During the last decades, tuition fees have significantly increased due to this demand, which made education impossible to receive for millions of people. There are multiple debates about whether the government should guarantee free higher education to all the people. Proponents of this initiative assert that it would allow more students to receive a good qualification according to their interests and, in its turn, it would contribute to the improvement of the economic situation. However, many experts are concerned with the idea of such a utopia as people studying for free tend to show worse attitudes than those who pay for their education. Moreover, subsidizing free colleges becomes a burden on the taxpayers.
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Utopia in the sphere of education
Education is an essential part of human life as it allows receiving new skills and knowledge to become qualified in a certain sphere. The main purpose of education is to prepare individuals for the challenges of adult life. In the ideal world, there are two basic aims of training: working and sustaining good relationships, while in reality there are still problems with both of these aspects of life. On the contrary, in Utopia, schools would be designed by specialists, caring about the main problems of people both at home and at work, and building the training on the basis of this information. In Utopia, education considers virtue and moral values to be the most important as it helps to control the behavior of its citizens within the existing social structure (More). A special committee would also have to decide on the subjects to be studied by students, depending on their needs for future life, and would include self-awareness classes and training aimed at sustaining relationships with others. The education in the Utopia would be holistic, free, and targeted at everyone, making it possible for all the people to receive equal opportunities, not depending on their race, gender, or social status.
The advantages of free college education
Widening of the workforce and the improvement of the economy
The existence of free colleges in the United States and the idea of making education without charge for everyone have caused numerous debates. Proponents of this initiative state that it serves as an opportunity for more people to receive a qualification as more than 60% of jobs require post-secondary education. From this perspective, giving people a chance to become specialized in a certain area allows them to climb the social and financial ladder, which has a positive influence on the state of the country’s economy. In addition, the idea of free college “equates to accessibility and attainability, often these new programs only remove obstacles for students, or the families of students, who are already highly likely to obtain a college degree” (DiMartino 259). Numerous studies have shown that more than a half of new students who enrolled in free community college programs were coming from low-income families, and would not be able to receive a degree without this aid. Those students showed good results and later received more employment opportunities.
Moreover, free access to various educational options for all people would widen the labor market by increasing the number of trained specialists. In its turn, it would help industries to hire and train qualified personnel with a wide range of skills. In addition, free education would also help to improve the country’s economy as it would allow students to receive a degree without collecting debts, which are being returned for the next years. It would permit people to be ready to earn and invest instead of thinking about paying off debts, which would have a good impact on the economy. For example, in Tennessee, according to the estimations, student loans significantly decreased in the first year of their program. From these perspectives, the availability of free colleges helps to improve the economy of the country as it allows people, who do not have resources for receiving a good education, to become qualified.
Liquidation of injustice
Another reason supporting the idea of making education free for everyone is its contribution to the liquidation of injustice. According to Bill Haslam, who was the first governor to sign a document about making community colleges in the American state of Tennessee free, it helps to fight inequality as people receive similar opportunities due to this initiative. The standard educational system, requiring payment from students, makes it impossible for many individuals from low-income families to afford to receive a degree due to high tuition costs. People confirm that their concern about the financial side interferes with their goals. According to the statistics, “nearly 60 percent of respondents said they worry about having enough money to pay for school, while half are concerned about paying their monthly expenses” (“Financial Stress Prevents College Students from Graduating”). Due to this inequality, numerous individuals do not have a chance to make contributions to society. According to multiple studies, the counties, which have already offered free educational programs, prove that injustice has declined there, while the rates of graduation have increased. From this perspective, free tuition can contribute to the solution to the situation with societal inequality.
Focus on careers
Numerous studies have shown that many students cannot focus on their studies and future careers because they are concerned with financial issues as they struggle to find means for paying for their education. Many individuals have to find a job to earn enough money to allow receiving a degree, which leads to worse performance due to the lack of time and emotional resources. There is also a growing rate among student loans for education, which leads to people thinking about returning debts instead of making a career and contributing to society. The reason for this phenomenon is that “the increasing use of debt, as a way of paying for higher education, shifts risk to individuals and away from the government” (Glater 1580). It may become a serious obstacle as “high debt load increases the risk for college dropout” (Houle 67). In addition, according to experts, educational facilities of the future should not only provide training in the chosen sphere but help people to become better at managing their resources and make wiser borrowing decisions. From this perspective, making education free would allow students to be more focused on their studies.
The disadvantages of free college education
Worse attitudes of students
The opponents of the initiative, aimed at making colleges free for everyone, find several problems, which represent serious disadvantages of the idea. According to their opinion, students, who are not charged with a payment, demonstrate less commitment and worse attitudes to the training process. The team at the University of Michigan organized an experiment, during which they contacted low-income, high-achieving students and told them they had four years of free tuition and fees (Sacerdote). This guarantee led to an increase in the number of students “who enrolled at the University of Michigan by 15 percentage points” (Sacerdote par. 9). Moreover, those, who use educational services for free, show less commitment to the process of learning and often become a burden for teachers as they tend to demonstrate bad behavior patterns, a lack of discipline, and interfere with the training process. It happens as they have no stimulus to take full advantage of the opportunities offered to them by colleges. Such students are often interested only in picking up a better degree, which would guarantee them a well-paying job. This attitude leads to the appearance of more inefficient specialists who cannot make a contribution to society.
Increased burden on taxpayers
Another reason, used by the opponents of the idea, is that this system shifts the financial burden from students to taxpayers and the government cannot subsidize all of them to guarantee people with equal educational opportunities. From this perspective, experts estimate that making colleges free for all the population is impossible due to its devastative impact on the economy. Subsidizing post-secondary educational facilities is expensive for the government. Investing in the sphere of education for everyone would mean that the government would have to reduce the military budget or the support of a number of other industries. It would mean that the country’s security would become less efficient and many companies, deprived of money, would suffer and, probably, would stop existing. From this perspective, making the initiative available to everyone can lead to a financial crisis and only worsen the situation.
The arguments against the idea of making colleges free can be simply rebutted with the help of specific measures. One of the solutions to the problem of the lack of commitment among students is to involve testing of their abilities before granting them access to an educational facility. Many institutions in the United States already have this requirement for their candidates. For example, colleges in Chicago demand the participants of their programs providing free tuition opportunities, to earn at least a “B” average. The practice of evaluation of students before accepting them to the facility has proven its efficiency as it allows granting options for receiving free education only to those who are ready to take full advantage of them. It leads to an increase in the quality of educational services and contributes to the growth of the number of well-trained specialists.
The government can also reconsider the financial issue as the importance of higher education is obvious for everyone and the system of free-of-charge admission has proven its efficiency in many states, as well. It is especially important today as the world is suffering from the pandemic, which has impacted all the spheres of life, including education. The situation has also demonstrated the need for training opportunities for everyone. Individuals require various options for obtaining new skills and knowledge, which can guarantee them an ability to make a living and to sustain the country’s economy, regardless of their race and social status. There are numerous measures, which can be undertaken by the government, including revaluation of its spending in different sectors and introducing policies, which would help to cope with organizations and individuals, who avoid paying taxes. These measures would help to find funds for subsidizing the sphere of education, which would provide all people with an opportunity to receive a degree and become efficient.
In conclusion, free colleges are a good initiative aimed at helping students, especially those who come from low-income families and cannot afford to receive a degree. The program allows more individuals to receive a good education and become qualified in the chosen sphere. Such a system provides people with more employment opportunities, allowing them to make a contribution to society. It also helps to fight the problem of injustice as it gives equal opportunities to all people. Moreover, the initiative stimulates the improvement of the economy as it helps to widen the workforce and receive more good specialists. However, there are several arguments used by the opponents of the idea, claiming that students, who are paid for, demonstrate less commitment and poor discipline, causing problems to teachers. Moreover, the financial perspective also interferes with the concept of nationwide free access to colleges as the government cannot subsidize all of the facilities and it would increase a burden for taxpayers. Nevertheless, there are ways for coping with these problems as there is a strong need for educational opportunities for all people, not depending on their race, gender, and social status.
DiMartino, Lauren A. The “Free College” Illusion: How State Tuition Support Programs are Widening the Opportunity Gap. Georgetown Journal on Poverty, Law, and Policy, vol. 25, no. 2, 2018, pp. 258-301.
“Financial Stress Prevents College Students from Graduating. What Can We Do?” Scholarship America, 2019.
Glater, Jonathan D. Student Debt and Higher Education Risk. California Law Review, vol. 103, no. 6, 2021, pp. 1561-1614.
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Houle, Jason N. Disparities in Debt: Parents’ Socioeconomic Resources and Young Adult Student Loan Debt. Sociology of Education, vol. 87, no. 1, 2014.
More, Thomas. Utopia. A Norton Critical Edition. Translated and Edited by Robert M. Adams. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1992.
Sacerdote, Bruce. Opinion: Here’s the Downside of Making Community College Free. MarketWatch, 2020.