Should public colleges be tuition-free? | The Tylt
Should public colleges be tuition-free?
There is no question that student loan debt is a huge problem in the U.S. and it's only getting worse. The average debt for those in their twenties is $22,135 and the average for those in their thirties is $34,033. A recent poll found 56.4 percent of Americans felt student loan debt was a bigger threat to the U.S. than nuclear war with North Korea.
Sen. Bernie Sanders has long pushed for tuition-free college and recently introduced legislation with other Democratic Senators including Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris that would do just that. The College for All Act would "eliminate tuition and fees at four-year public colleges and universities for families making up to $125,000" and make community colleges "free for all."
Today, the average student takes on over $30,000 in debt to get a bachelor's degree from a four-year college or university. In addition to eliminating tuition, the College for All Act would substantially reduce student debt by allowing existing federal aid to cover the cost of books, housing, transportation and the other costs of college; require the states and tribes participating in the program to cover the full cost of college for their poorest students; and triple federal investment in work study programs.
Education advocates have been pushing lawmakers to address the student loan crisis in the U.S., and Sanders believes tuition-free college is the logical answer.
But not everyone believes tuition-free college is the best solution to the problem of student loan debt. President and Professor of Economics at Vassar College Catharine Hill argues in The New York Times that while tuition-free college sounds like a great idea in the abstract, it would lead to a number of negative, unintended consequences.
If the revenue is not replaced, free tuition means fewer resources to teach students. Unintended consequences could include reductions in need-based financial aid, which would harm the low- and middle-income students free tuition is meant to help.
Hill also argues that students may want to borrow if they feel it would get them a better education. Mandating public colleges be tuition-free would only further benefit wealthy students who wouldn't be forced to consider the choice between low cost, lesser quality schools, and high-cost options.
Being able to borrow for education increases students’ options. Sometimes they choose a higher-cost school as a better investment, because of stronger academic programs and a higher graduation rate, even though it might involve more debt. Without federal loan programs, many students could attend only schools that their families could afford from their current incomes and savings.