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The free college debate

March 10, 2016

With the upcoming election, the idea of free college is at the forefront of millennial’s minds. High school seniors are beginning to vote, and the promise of free college is causing them to jump onto the Bernie bandwagon. Is the idea of free college realistic? Or is it just an empty promise that candidates are using as political leverage to gain young voters?

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Let’s talk about free college for a moment. When 2016 presidential candidate Bernie Sanders says that once he’s in office he will make college free, he doesn’t mean the nice, private universities where teary-eyed parents drop their fresh-out-of high school babies off until Thanksgiving break. Sanders, in an interview with National Public Radio, said he is “going to make public colleges and universities tuition-free.” Public, folks, means community colleges. Colleges with only 39.1 percent of students obtaining a college degree in six years, according to Columbia College’s Community College Research Center. Are you #feelingthebern yet?

So let’s assume that public colleges and universities offer free in-state tuition. This means that these colleges become just another public school. Underfunded, overcrowded, and basically high school all over again, except no one is constantly preaching “this won’t be acceptable when you go to college!” because you’re already there. You could ask any senior who is itching to leave these green and yellow hallways why they are ready to bolt in May and they would likely say it’s because college offers them freedom. Sanders’ plan does not offer high school graduates freedom. It offers a shaky plan of another six years where only 39.1% of them will escape with a degree.

Sanders wants to create the best-educated workforce in the world by making colleges tuition free; however, free college does not guarantee quality labor. In fact, the countries that he bases his plan on don’t have the most educated populations. That title goes to South Korea, at 67% of 25-34 year olds with a college education. Coming in second and third are Canada and Japan, at 58%, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the top three countries don’t offer free college. Sanders uses Norway, Sweden, and Finland as examples for how free college is beneficial. These countries are neck in neck with America’s education rates. This means that free college doesn’t insure an educated population, like Sanders would hope.

Now, don’t think that I’m negating the many people who have earned viable degrees through community colleges. Those people worked hard for their education, just like any private university student. I’m against the notion to make all public universities free to every Joe who walks the earth. Free college would work if it was tougher to get accepted. Right now that’s just not the case. Giving every man and woman a degree and expecting them to find a job would be impossible, because once everyone has a degree, no one has a degree. The next expected step is grad school. Then what happens when everyone’s done that? Guess we all go home to our parent’s empty nests and fill them back up again.

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Imagine going to school for twelve years, working as hard as you possibly can, only to find out that you can’t go to college because the price is too high? This may seem like just a sad story to you, but it is something that actually happens all too often in America. The price of college has increased twelve fold in the past three decades, putting students in devastating debt or preventing them from attending college at all. Many kids are left on their own to pay for their debts, because their parents can’t afford to help them out. The economy is getting worse and the cost of tuition is rising, creating a debt epidemic among America’s newest citizens, and we have to do something to change it. Education is the most important aspect of shaping an American citizen and providing them the opportunities they need to strive, and it needs to be free for all American children.

First and foremost, a free college education opens opportunities for people of all socioeconomic statuses to earn their degree. If a child from a poor family is not able to go to college due to the cost of tuition, it creates a systematic cycle causing families that were once at the bottom to stay there. The acquirement of a degree needs to be more attainable in order to allow students to reach their full potential and life and break the cycle of poverty that their family has been stuck in for generations. If all Americans are created equal, why don’t we all have equal access to a higher education?

People like to point out that college should be earned, and paying for students to attend school ruins the incentive to go to college and work hard while there. This however, is vastly inaccurate. Making college free for all would widely increase the applicant pool, making college a little tougher to get into. This is the incentive that kids need to work harder in school. As of right now, plenty of kids who don’t work hard receive the privilege of going to college get to go, because of their parents’ socioeconomic status. If everyone could go to college for free, it will increase the competition, making sure that every kid who worked hard to earn college and mold a good future for themselves, would get the opportunity to attend a university that will help them to achieve their goals

Not only is the price of tuition outrageous, but the profit that the government makes off of students debts is morally wrong. The government makes enough money off of student loans to essentially make college free or as close to free as possible. In fact, it is estimated that in the next decade, the government will make a profit of $110 billion off of programs for student loans. The government should not be profiting off the backs of our up and coming leaders and workforce as they are trying to find their place in said workforce.

The idea of making college free for everyone does not seem feasible to most people, which is an understandable misconception; however, it is not as far fetched as one might think. While the plan is a whopping $75 billion, it can be afforded by imposing a tax on a fraction of a percent on Wall Street Speculators. While many Wall Street speculators may be upset about this proposed tax, they need to realize that current college students are the future of our country, which seems like a pretty good investment to me.

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