Free College Tuition For All!

by hmark2 on February 18, 2014 - 12:23am

As any current college student will tell you, the cost of earning a college degree is expensive, and the price tag of attendance continues to climb. With that in mind, Jordan Weissman's article in the Jan, 2014 edition of The Atlantic entitled “College Tuition Free (Without Spending a Penny More in Education)” proves to be a provocative and arresting read as he reasons through the idea of providing free public college tuition at a cost which he concludes is significantly cheaper than what our federal government currently spends upon tax breaks and financial aid programs (i.e. last year $62.6 billion was collected for public college tuition vs. the $69 billion our federal government allocated for financial aid programs). If you subtract the $21.8 billion state college students received in 2011-2012 for Pell Grants, you could, Weissman suggests, cut the actual cost of universal free state tuition by yet another third! Weissman concludes that overhauling our current higher education system is doable, and it would make sense to do so, but because 'big government' solutions are an anathema to our society, it will never happen.

            Being a public college student myself, I am enamoured with Weissman's line of thinking, but as person who hails from poverty, and as one who turned down hefty private school scholarships in lieu of   a virtually free public school education (via large academic scholarships), I can't help but worry that such universal access to public institutions could have deleterious consequences, producing such a great swell of enrollment that needier students like myself might be closed out of public institutions as well as the private institutions that we already aren't able to afford. That said, perhaps making tuition free at public institutions would prompt private institutions to reduce their tuition rate in order to compete. According to research by Thomas Dye quoted in the September, 2013 issue of Salon magazine, 42% of our government official graduated from just twelve elite private schools. In past years, Harvard, for example, accepted 40% of legacy students compared to an overall acceptance rate of only 11%. The Obama administration's proposition to tie financial aid availability to affordability may well be less extreme that what Weissman is proposing, but it certainly won't afford poor student increased access to private institutions, like Harvard, an outcome that might possibly be effected if public tuition was zeroed out, however inadvertent such an outcome may be.

            Despite the trending costs of higher learning, pursuing a college degree is smart, but it is also a financial gamble for those students who can least afford to incur the risk. Midway thru my undergraduate experience, I am satisfied with my choice to attend a public institution, but I also am acutely conscious of the pitfalls (i.e. demand exceeds seats in many classes; I know many fellow students who have been forced into taking classes which are not applicable to their major in order to maintain their financial aid. They are at great risk for dropping out, as it isn't feasible for them to graduate within the standard four years without incurring additional financial hardship to take the necessary classes during alternative sessions and/or at alternative institutions). Weissman's suggestion that we make public institutions free may not be completely doable, but considering the feasibility of such can only lead to improvements that will surely benefit us all.


Stoker, E., & Bruenig, M. (2013, Sept. 9). The one percent's Ivy League loophole. Salon.                             


Weissman, J., (2014, Jan 3). Exactly how much the government would have to spend to make public           

      college tuition-free. The Atlantic.  exactly- how-much-the-government-would-have-to-spend-



My perspective of this is from a different background, I am from a pretty well off family, not that you'd be able to tell by looking at my clothes, and the school that I attend, but I must admit even coming from a family with a good income it is extremely difficult to balance out investment and future success. I had to turn down many private schools, even though they gave me academic scholarships well over the price of attending Brockport, simply because they believe that because you have a decent income you do not need other financial aid. I feel as if they do not take into account the fact that while I have 3 older sisters who are unclaimed, my family still does help support them. We have debt and many other bills to pay and are accustomed to spreading our money pretty thin to afford paying those bills. I feel as if the government does not realize that even if we are not considered poor, coming from a place such as Long Island, as I do, cost of living is much higher than to the colleges of which I applied, as well as that the money we get each month has been delegated for years to certain costs, and trying to factor in new costs is hard as it is, not to add the fact that schooling is a huge bill, some schools are practically a mortgage! In some states they offer free public college tuition to students that grew up in the state, why can New York not do this? While we are one of the most populated states, we also have some of the highest taxes and industry, meaning the state makes more money than most others. I still cannot fathom how other states who have much smaller budgets can afford this, but a state as great as New York still cannot get it right.

I found this to be interesting and I agree with what you have said. I also think it is interesting how we are required to take classes (general education classes) that have absolutely nothing to do with our major but are required for graduation and we have to pay for it. I would say my family is from the lower side of middle class and because of this I am 100% on my own for paying for college. Because of this, I find it extremely frustrating to be required to take classes that I do not need (when I have been in school almost my entire life taking “gen eds”) and paying for these classes especially when on occasion I have to help my own family pay for bills. I do not have any problem doing this because it is my family and I love them but I don’t know how I am supposed to “do it all”…all by myself. I also don’t want people to think I am lazy trying to get money off of the government ( I work all through the summer, and I have 2 jobs on campus, and I have applied for a heap of scholarships) this being said, I do wish New York could cut us students a break because now a days we aren’t even guaranteed a job when we get out…which is a whole other conversation. I also think New York should help us out as full time students because even if we do hold seasonal jobs these jobs are part-time positions and therefore they don’t pay very well…being students we are some of the poorest people trying to better ourselves but they make it so difficult…it’s so frustrating.

This is an impressive news article in which you elaborate several interesting perspective and even add very relevant statistics. Personally, I approve totally with you about how difficult or even impossible it is to make all tuitions fees free at all levels of education; elementary and high schools should indeed provide enough desks for every children at very cheap costs because illiteracy in 2014 does not have its place anymore in our society. Governments should focus a lot on helping families to support their child during his studies because some families really struggle to bring food on the table everyday and they should not be squeezed even more if they force school for children less than 16 years old, in Quebec for example it is a law. It is crucial that a country provides public schools for people with less wealth and it is also natural that rich people get to decide in which institutions they send their children. However the value of the knowledge they acquire in public schools should be seen as relevant as any diploma in a private school otherwise it would be significantly unjust. Moreover I believe that everyone should be given a chance to discover their IQ because wealth has nothing to do with intelligence. In addition, last fall 2013 in Quebec there was huge students strikes, protesting for the government lower student fees, which caused chaos for a while in a bunch of CEGEPS. Furthermore, the US government could implement new institutions that are more into practices then theory; in the Quebec province we have DEP which contains a good number of programs on how to do things on a more constructive level. Finally as we know going to University and getting a PH.D. is not mad for everyone for different reasons either time frame, wealth or even IQ but is not a reason to restrict anyone from attaining his or her goals.

I found this post quite interesting. It hit a topic I love talking about which is College tuition. I don't come from poverty, but I sure do not come from a family of wealth. I consider my family to be in the lower middle class but all that aside I think the prices of tuition are a little outrageous. However that is not the main thorn in my side. The fact that I have to take general ed classes that have nothing to do with my major just grinds my gears. Even if tuition prices were not lowered imagine how much more money we could be saving by only taking classes that pertain to our major! I think it will be a little tough to get tuition to be free for every student, however a small step we could take is cutting out non essential classes. It would save us time and money.

I was drawn to your post because the title caught my eye. Coming from a middle class family myself, my college decision was greatly affected by whether or not the school was economically feasible. With this said, I feel like this same problem is shared by millions of students each year as they begin to make college decisions. Therefore, I’m a huge supporter of people like Weismann who ambitiously try to attack this problem. While his aspirations may not be exactly feasible, I agree that we need more people like him to conquer skyrocketing college tuition costs. Schooling will virtually never be “free”, however, making costs more reasonable will allow students from middle class families to attend prestigious universities for all the right reasons; grades not money. This article and Weismann’s goal is inspiring and shows that despite a school system that is corrupt, caring more about the money a student can provide their institution than the students qualifications, still has hope to reconciled with bold people who speak out against the issue. Unaffordable schooling has affected me personally and I hope with the help of people like Weismann regulations will be made allowing students of all economic backgrounds to attend the school of their choice.

I totally agree with you that free higher education is a possibility. If we look at northern European countries who already have such a system, it seems feasible. And it's true that it is a shame that people with potential are refused the access to higher education because of their financial situation.
I am currently attending school in Quebec and have just gone through the process of University applications. I have voluntarily decided to attend a University in Ontario, which costs nearly 5 times more than attending University in Quebec. I do not come from a rich family and I rely mainly on my part time job savings and scholarships to back me up. As I have been also offered admission in Quebec, my choice of a more expensive University is more personal rather than forced. I have made my decision mainly based on the quality of education I believe I can get in my field of study.
The point I am trying to make is that I don’t think a free education system is the solution. I think motivation and teaching quality are also an important factor. My main concerned is raised by a few friends of mine enrolled as I am currently in the Quebec’s CEGEPs, which is basically an intermediary school between high school and University considering that high school finishes in 11th grade here and University begins in the sophomore year. CEGEPs are mainly free and as such I know too many people who simply decided to take it easy and keep as less courses as possible in their schedule and end up spending 4-5 year of their lives while it is supposed to be 2 years. When there is no direct cost of failure, I believe motivation is much smaller. That being said, I don’t think the financial cost of failure is the best option but it’s the only one that seems to work right now. However, I believe it can also be implemented to have the adverse effects. If University is free but places in each program are limited and Universities only accept the best academic students, then the motivation should be taken care of. Although, in such a case the availability of education is far from being better since great academic performances are required to even be accepted into University.

This is an excellent news summary. It is clear and concise, yet reveals all pertinent information. The quality of your writing style is also noteworthy. Your article summary definitely raises an important issue in today’s society: College tuition. I live in Quebec and in February 2012, the Liberal government announced a university tuition rise of $1,625 over a period of 5 years (= $325/year) bringing the average cost for undergraduate studies up to $3,793 in 2016, compared to the average Canadian tuition of $5,600. However, this led to a heated debate amongst the population, known as the “2012 Quebec student protests”, as many Quebecers claimed that this increase would “limit access to higher education”. This is only a brief introduction to the Quebec student protest. I hope it provides you with a more global understanding of the issue as you can see how college tuition is a worldwide social concern. Here are two links that provide more in-depth information about the issue as well as what the protest engendered: (more background information) and (where we are now).

First of all, I think you chose a great topic to discuss, especially if you knew that Montrealers would be commenting on your post. Recently in Quebec, we had the maple spring, when CEGEP and university students protested against the increase in college tuition. This is a bone of contention that is still a subject of debate in our society. Personally, I feel that education should not be free. Everything has a price, and if we give away education, it would become meaningless, in my opinion. If you did not strive academically and financially for your education, why should you be proud of it? Of course, I may be a bit biased because in Quebec, our education is not very expensive at all, and can be afforded by a big chunk of the population. As for one of the problems you highlighted in your post, about cheap education flooding the system, I believe that our CEGEP system here Quebec is a great solution. For those of you who aren't familiar with it, CEGEP is a combination of the other provinces' and the United States' grade 12 and first year of university. As a result, we graduate high school in grade 11 and an undergraduate degree takes a year less to complete. I believe that this system also acts as a filter, preventing people who aren't serious about their studies going to university. There are many high school students who I graduated with that decided to attend CEGEP because they didn't know what else to do, but decided not to attend university because they figured out what they wanted to do. For those who are interested in the CEGEP debate, this forum talks about it more:

Good summary. What I like about your article is that you do not stop at giving us the arguments but you also add statistics from other sources. This allows for an overall better understanding of the text. I do hope that education will cost less in the future and agree with the article. However, my only concern is whether or not we will also pay scholarships for people for would have normally stopped going to school before college and will thus spend our tax money for no reason. Even with this disadvantage though, I think this would probably solve many problems. This article ( discusses the issue and says that, with free education, we would be able to solve many problems and less people would end on the streets since they could instead find a good job and contribute to society.

Great job on summarizing such a complex article! Everything was well explained and it demonstrates a great understanding of the matter. If only education would become less expensive or completely free, many problems would be solved. Those who can't afford to pay for their education would be able to attend college and then contribute to the society. Of course, there's some negative side, but everything has pros and cons. As Malala explained in her book "I am Malala", education is the first step of having a great society. The more the people are educated, the more the society will benefit from it. I believe that experiencing a little of the disadvantage right now is totally fine since the benefits in the future will be huge, and it's always better to have people educated than people not educated. Many children, in less developed countries, would give up anything in order to receive education. Others, in more developed countries, takes education for granted. It is important to remember that education is the key to almost everything.