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. http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/01/heres- exactly- how-much-the-government-would-have-to-spend-