Guest Post : Soaring College Costs: Should College Education Be Free for Everyone

According to a Money Magazine article, for over two decades colleges and universities across the United States have been increasing tuition four times faster than the overall inflation rate. After adjusting for financial aid, the amount of money families pay for college has soared 439% since 1982. The soaring costs of a college education has brought back the discussion of whether or not college education should be free. Let's take a look at the two sides of the debate.

Arguments in Favor of Free College Education

  • Student Debt: Many students graduate with an overwhelming amount of debt, which can significantly affect their lives. The average yearly cost, including tuition and expenses, of attending a public, 4-year school is close to $20,000. The costs of going to private for-profit and non-profit 4-year colleges are $30,000 and $35,000 per year, respectively (Source: National Center for Education Statistics; 2007-2008 school year). Fortunately, some students do receive grants and scholarships to help ease the burden.

  • Local economic impact: The construction of new facilities and the new jobs created by the need for more faculty and staff would stimulate local economies.

  • National economic impact: More people would attend college if it were free, and an educated workforce would make the United States more competitive in the global economy. The nation needs more educated workers. A report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce states that in 2018 about 63 percent of all U.S. jobs will require at least some postsecondary education. American employers will need about 22 million new workers with postsecondary degrees. The report forecasts that U.S. employers will fall short by three million highly educated workers without a big change in the status quo.

  • Informed decisions: Some people believe a college education helps people make informed decisions in a democratic society.

  • Personal accomplishment: Obtaining a college degree provides people with confidence and a sense of achievement.

  • Lowering the cost: Bachelor's degrees could become three-year degrees by eliminating some general education requirements and thus lowering the cost to taxpayers.

  • Changes in education requirements: In the past, a high school education was sufficient for a large percentage of workers, and public schools provided them with a free education. Now, a lot of the good paying jobs require a college education, so out of fairness some people believe free education should be extended to colleges.

  • Volunteer services: Free public colleges can require students to provide volunteer services in return for their education.

Arguments Against Free College Education

  • Education required for jobs: Some people claim there are not enough jobs available which require a college degree, so why should taxpayers spend more money on public colleges and create more overqualified workers?

  • Competition: Some experts believe that the competition for students' money makes US colleges better.

  • Private colleges: Tuition powered, non-elite private colleges could get hurt. However, some of these colleges could become public.

  • Upward mobility: Some people are concerned that a free college means more college graduates, and this will make it harder for those who don't go to college to advance in their careers.

  • Job relevant degrees: Some people argue that certain degrees have little to no value in the real world. They believe college should be expensive so that college students are more inclined to study topics that are valued and useful for society instead of taking degree programs they enjoy or believe are easy to complete but have no practical use. A lot of people attend college after graduating from high school because they don't have a better plan; however, they might not be ready for college. A lot of these students receive financial aid, drop out of college, and thus waste taxpayers' money.

  • Outsourcing: Those in favor of free college education for everyone claim that the United States needs more educated people to compete in the global economy. However, due to companies outsourcing jobs to foreign countries, there are actually less jobs available for college educated Americans. According to an October 2010 Los Angeles Times article, the most recent Commerce Department data indicates that employment at the foreign subsidiaries and affiliates of US multinational companies grew by 729,000 employees from 2006 to 2008 to a total of 11.9 million. During that same period, domestic employment by these companies decreased by 500,000 jobs to 21.1 million. For example, more and more high level engineering and development for products produced in China are being done in China and not in the United States. Also, according to the Los Angeles Times article, Dennis Donovan, a veteran corporate-relocation consultant, said many legal and engineering firms already outsource routine work overseas. He sees a bigger wave of offshoring by the burgeoning healthcare industry.

  • Low-income taxpayers: Some people argue that low income taxpayers shouldn't help finance the college education of wealthier students.

So that's the issue. Where do you stand?

Brian Jenkins is a member of the writing team. He is an expert on a number of college and career topics.


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