This article will promote the argument that higher education should be available to everyone regardless of their race, gender, or socioeconomic status.
The resource of university and college-level studies should be accessible to allow students to master topics they excel in, and ultimately, become more productive members of society.
The transition to a free college system will certainly be a challenge for society to undertake, but there are a number of reasons why college should be free.
Note that this article presents debate points that students can use for in-class debates so has an intentional bias – there are obvious debate points against this perspective as well, that I hope to outline in a future piece.
Reasons Why College Should Be Free
1. Universal Access to Public Education
The first and most important reason that college should be a free resource that everyone can avail themselves of is that higher education is a right.
Historically, education has been used as a marker of class separation in society.
The same should not be true of the U.S., a country meant to be a bastion of equality. Equality means little if there’s no equality of opportunity, and there can be no equality of opportunity without equal access to education.
While there are currently resources in place to help students pay for college tuition, student loans can feel downright predatory and entirely discouraging to students who don’t want the average of $30,000 in debt when they enter the workforce.
Having universal access to public education would solve this problem in more ways than one. In fact, there’s quite the precedent for this success as well.
Schools that have opened up free elementary and middle school education are often correlated with a decrease in crime and an overall improved sense of wellbeing in their students.
This concept carries over to the universal access to college-level education and should be considered in the discussion.
2. Less Student Debt
On that same note, student debt is extremely high, about $30,000 per graduate, and can cripple budding adults who are just finding their place in the world and need to land a job with their degree, or risk being mired in debt for years—even decades.
That is an alarming prospect. Most families cannot afford college tuition outright, and making college free would be extremely helpful in reducing the overall student debt.
Student debt is a blight on American society—so much so that government initiatives and bills often promise to clear some student debt as a way of earning cheap political points over their opponents. This isn’t a healthy way to handle debt, especially given just how pervasive and widespread the student debt crisis is.
Over time, with a free education, student debt can be halved, and ultimately eradicated to allow society members to allocate more resources towards other major life expenses.
Finances are a significant part of life, and it’s fair to say that everyone could use an additional $30,000 in their pocket.
3. Better Education
Another important reason college should be free is that that all members of society can attain better education.
Those who are more educated are more capable of solving complex problems, whether it be in the fields of science, medicine, and technology.
Depriving the country of young, bright minds on the basis of cost is a detrimental approach in the long run. The more we invest in the education of the youth, the more effective the next generation will become in solving the problems that society faces.
To put it simply, learning should not be monetized, a principle which several other countries have recognized. Learning is a universal right and the detrimental effects of poorly educated citizenry are clear to see.
4. Economic Uplift
On average, college students rack up $30,000 in debt. Imagine an additional $30,000 by highly educated, intelligent students being pumped into a free market through investments like houses, business startups, and other ventures.
Even spending additional money on groceries and other products and services benefits a free market and provides a boost to the economy, rather than having it stagnate and exclusively go towards paying off debt.
Over time, this new influx of money into the market could help the economy to be less fragile and more robust in the long term.
5. Equality of Opportunity
One of the founding principles of liberal Western societies is supposed to be equality of opportunity. In other words, every member of society is, in principle, supposed to have the same opportunity to build themselves up; however, this has been a failing of society since college tuitions are so expensive.
Those who earn college degrees get higher-paying jobs.
Those who cannot get college degrees on the basis of expense do not have access to the same jobs, career advancement opportunities, or benefits offers for having a niche-specific, company-value skillset.
As such, until college becomes accessible for all, equal opportunity is not truly being espoused by college institutions.
6. A Stronger Workforce
In a similar vein, more widespread access to education allows students who excel to utilize their skills in different sectors of the workforce.
Whether it’s in business, technology, or finance, there’s a constant need for new young blood in the industry to keep it fresh; it’s just how the world works.
Providing universal access to education allows everyone to develop their skillset and, in time, strengthen the population to reflect a highly intelligent, skilled workforce.
7. Helps Students Focus on Studying
Finances are a major concern for many college students, so much so that they have to take on additional jobs and responsibilities besides their coursework to make ends meet and pay for the essentials.
Not only is this a stressful environment not conducive to learning, but it can also affect their performance.
Learning to live in the real world and deal with real-world expenses is one thing; it’s another entirely to expect students to excel while a $30,000 weight hangs over their head.
Removing this expense would reduce stress and vastly increase productivity.
8. Other Countries Demonstrate that it Works
One particularly compelling case for free college is that other countries have done it with great success.
The precedent of success in these countries that utilize free education should be inspiration enough to start making the shift sooner rather than later.
Making colleges for-profit institutions can muddy the true meaning of education, and these 5 countries that utilize free college education are a shining beacon of what higher education should look like.
9. Vocational Excellence
One particular important argument for free college is with regard to vocational skillsets.
As the world becomes more and more reliant on technology to grow businesses, analyze market trends, and solve problems, there’s an increasing need for a population with the skill to tackle these challenges.
College-educated young adults have the baseline skillset to tackle different vocational challenges in their field, helping to better society in the long run.
10. More Satisfaction
If colleges were free, everyone would have the same choice about whether to attend or not.
Those that want to carry their educational journey as far as they can do would be welcome to do so without needing to worry about cost.
That’s a remarkably satisfying prospect on its face: everyone can learn what they’re interested in and excel if they’re willing to put in the work.
Additional Arguments to Consider
- Helps a nation to compete globally: In a globalized and interconnected world, the countries that will succeed are the ones with the most educated population. If college is free, more students will get a higher education, leading to a more educated population.
- Upward social mobility: Free college education for the poor will help people to escape poverty and move up into the middle class.
- Removal of Financial Incentives: Often, higher education institutions are more interested in the financial incentive of “more bums on seats” than student grades. This leads to fudging of grades to help the institution climb the higher education league tables and other dodgy practices.
- Less expenses on advertising: In a competitive higher education marketplace, colleges are increasingly spending more and more money on advertising and marketing instead of putting students’ fees directly into their education.
- Builds an educated and open-minded population: My views and values personally changed significantly after leaving my insular hometown and going to university. It was the first time in my life that I met people from different life experiences to mine – the first time I met someone who was wealthy, the first time I met new immigrants, and the first time I met people who didn’t fit into my society’s dominant heteronormative framework all occurred when I was at university. The chance to meet and get to know these people personally made me a more open-minded person. The more people who get this chance, the better.
There are a number of compelling arguments, from the improved workforce to the equality of opportunity, that demand a free college experience for all. Transitioning from for-profit institutions to a societal boon with education for all isn’t an easy step, to be sure, but it is one that the United States can and should undertake for the betterment of its citizens.
Learning should be free for learning’s sake, as well as the sake of the millions of youth who want to expand their skillset and expertise. Free college isn’t just wishful thinking; it’s both idealistic and pragmatic, something that can and should be incorporated into society.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education.