In the United States, the pursuit of a higher education is highly regarded, as it is correlated to being successful. However, many individuals are hindered from accessing this basic right due to the lack of resources such as insufficient student aid which leads the student to focus more on paying their tuition instead of focusing in their studies. When it comes to achieving a higher education, many people argue that it is necessary to charge tuition and other related fees, however, it should be free for students because an educated population is better for the participation of political issues, the current economy is now requiring an educated workforce which would greatly improve the economy, the best resources are being wasted, it would help close the increasing wage gap, it is a natural evolution of elementary school / high school in which other countries have successfully implemented, and it is not a new or crazy concept with there being success in the past.
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Having a free higher education would mean the population would be educated which, in turn, is better for political participation. When people vote on issues in the country or for representatives, they lack many factors which can greatly help determine the best choice to make. One of these factors is historical context. It is important to factor in history when making a decision that can affect the country. People should be able to think about how issues in this current time has affected related issues in the past. Many people would argue that those were different times, and to focus on the present time, but without historical context, people do not see the full picture and instead, see parts of it without fully understanding the influence this issue or situation had when it took place. Attending college also exposes people to new ideas and people that come from different cultures and backgrounds which helps to consider when people make important decisions. This helps them be more open minded. When voting on political issues and representatives, a college education provides people with historical context.
Nowadays, the economy is requiring an educated workforce which would greatly improve the economy. Compared to the past, a lot of the jobs available today require advanced technical skills or are a knowledge-based job. There are so many of these jobs that, sometimes, there are not enough people who are qualified to fill in those positions. This is why a college education has become necessary now, then in the past, to fill those positions. However, many people choose not to go to college due to high amount of debt they graduate with. Andrew M. Cuomo and David Brooks article, “Should College Tuition Be Free?” states the following, “Attending college is either too expensive to consider or it saddles students with debt for decades to come. Over the past 30 years, the average cost of college has increased 1,120 percent. The result is that student debt has reached an astonishing $1.4 trillion nationwide, with students now graduating, on average, with upward of $35,000 in loans” (Cuomo’s and Brooks 22). People who owe that much money do not have enough funds to contribute to the economy since they are trying to pay off their debt. If people did not have such a big amount of student loans, they would be able to buy houses, invest in the stock market, and other things that would contribute more to the economy. Also, if people can achieve to get good jobs, this will 1) increase tax revenue and 2) decrease forms of public aid. Both of these things would greatly help the economy as well. Having a college education and an educated workforce, would be greatly beneficial for the growth of the American economy.
The United States is wasting their best resources when it comes to higher education by insufficient student aid and by the students focusing in paying their tuition instead of focusing on their studies If a high school student comes from a low-income household and they are the best in their grade, does not mean that they are the ones who go to the top schools. Even if that student is qualified to go to a top-rated school, they have no choice to go to a low-rated school solely for the fact that it is less expensive and more affordable. This is of course assuming that the student is able to go to college at all. Many times, these over-achieving students are not able to go to college either due to monetary or legal issues. These students could possibly not be United States citizens and, therefore, are ineligible to apply for FAFSA. Many would argue that these non-citizen students can get financial aid through the Dream Act, which they are eligible to apply to, however, the Dream Act application is not guaranteed financial aid and is instead more of a lottery.
Even if the students is a citizen and eligible for FAFSA, this financial aid is often not enough to help with college fees. Svati Kirsten Narula’s article “The Myth of Working Your Way Through College” states, “In 1979, when the minimum wage was $2.90, a hard-working student with a minimum-wage job could earn enough in one day (8.44 hours) to pay for one academic credit hour… the cost of an MSU credit hour has multiplied since 1979. So has the federal minimum wage. But today, it takes 60 hours of minimum-wage work to pay off a single credit hour” (Narula). Student financial aid just is not enough help. Students will be spending more time working to pay off college than studying for classes or exams. As another example, a Pell Grant today only covers about 30% of the average cost of attending a four-year college. However, in 1973, this same grant covered over 75% of the cost. The difference between today and 1973 is very significant. The United States is wasting so much brain power because the students are focusing more on their college fees than studying. The United States can, instead, be using this brain power to assist with medical breakthroughs, advancement in the economy, and leadership in every field.
A free college education can help in closing the increasing wage gap. There is a large wage gap between the upper-income family and the low-income family. According to Rakesh Kochhar and Anthony Cilluff’s (from the Pew Research Center) article, “How wealth inequality has changed in the U.S. since the Great Recession, by race, ethnicity, and income”, The upper-income families holds 75 times as much wealth as the low-income families. Comparatively, in 1989, upper-income families only held 28 times as much wealth as low-income families (Kochhar and Cilluffo). What this means is that, because college is getting more and more expensive, this means that fewer low-income students are able to attend college, which means that the wage gap grows even larger. And if somehow low-income students managed to graduate college, they would end up with a huge student loan debt. With this big student loan debt, the probability of buying a house, getting married, having kids, and saving money is decreased. With a free college education, more low-income students will be able to attend and graduate with a degree in order to get a good and high paying job which will, in turn, help in closing the wage gap.
A free college education is natural after going to elementary and high school for free in which other countries have successfully implemented. The idea of free college is no crazier than the idea of free K-12. There was a point, in the past, where only a few elementary schools and high schools were free. Free schooling started as early as the 1700s with the creation of a few “common” schools, but it was until the mid-1800s where free schooling was made popular. This was due to Horace Mann, the Secretary of Education in Massachusetts, who also made school mandatory by law. There were many free elementary and high schools by the 1880’s (Snyder 1-7). What this means is that free education is constantly evolving, and the next step is making college free. Take Finland, Germany, and Norway as an example. These countries do not charge their students tuition because they see this education as an investment in the future of their country. Many people would argue that this would mean that the United States would spend more on education than before, however, the GDP percentage that the United States spends with this current education system compared to what the other mentioned countries with free education is not a big difference. For example, Finland spends about 2.08%, Norway spends 1.96%, Germany spends 1.35%, and the United States spends about 1.36%. Because this is not a major difference and the next step into free education is obtaining free college, the United States should make college free.
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Making college free is not a new or crazy concept with there being success in the past. There have been plenty of people and documents which have been in favor of making college education free. One example is John Adams, a founding father, when he said in 1785 “The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and must be willing to bear the expense of it” (Adams). When John Adams says “whole people”, Adams is referring to the people of the United States of America. Adams is basically saying that the United States citizens should be responsible to pay for the education of the students. Another example of a supporter of free education is Rutherford B. Hayes in his Inaugural Address in 1877 which says that “the basis for all prosperity lies within the intellectual and moral condition of the people. Provisions should be made to support free schools by State governments and national authority if additional aid is needed”. Hayes is saying that education is where the growth of America comes from and that the government needs to support free education for the sake of American growth. The Morill Act of 1862 made state colleges widely available for every American of every social class to attend. When this was first created, students were able to attend college without any tuition fees but, eventually, they started charging tuition. The G.I. Bill is a big reason as to why college should be free. The G.I Bill allowed many soldiers after World War II to attend college for free and get an education. If it wasn’t for the G.I. Bill, many of these veterans would have not been able to attend college otherwise. The soldiers that were educated through this bill contributed $35.5 billion in economy growth over the next 35 years. Many economists estimate that the government profited by $12.8 billion in income taxes because of the G.I. The educated soldiers who were educated through the G.I Bill were also more active in their communities and participated more in organizations and politics. These veterans also played a big part in the advancement in the science field by producing nuclear weapons, nuclear power plants, aircrafts, and so much more. All of these advancements were made possible because of the educated veterans through the G.I. Bill. Not only did the G.I Bill change those soldiers’ lives, but it also changed the United States by helping the economy and increasing the amount of skills people know in the country. This bill was a major reason for the high productivity and economic growth in America after the war.
To summarize, having a free college education helps because the population would participate in politics with an educated mind, the economy would be greatly boosted, it would help the students focus more on their studies, it would level out the current wage gap difference, other countries have implemented free college successfully, and there has been success in making college free in the past. Making college free is a necessary investment that the United States has to make in order to for the economy to grow. Without a free education, America will lose plenty of untapped potential to improve not only the country but also improve the lives of many people who are struggling or are unable to attend college at all.
- Adams, John. “Founders Online: From John Adams to John Jebb, 10 September 1785.” National Archives and Records Administration, National Archives and Records Administration, 1785, founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/06-17-02-0232.
- Cuomo, Andrew M., and David Brooks. “Should College Tuition Be Free?” New York Times Upfront, vol. 150, no. 11, 2018, p. 22.
- Hayes, Rutherford B. “Rutherford B. Hayes’s Inaugural Address.” Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library & Museums, 1877, www.rbhayes.org/hayes/rutherford-b.-hayes-s-inaugural-address/.
- Kochhar, Rakesh, and Anthony Cilluffo. “How U.S. Wealth Inequality Has Changed since Great Recession.” Pew Research Center, Pew Research Center, 1 Nov. 2017, www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/11/01/how-wealth-inequality-has-changed-in-the-u-s-since-the-great-recession-by-race-ethnicity-and-income/.
- Levine, Murray, and Adeline Gordon Levine. “Who Said the Government Can’t Do Anything Right? The World War II GI Bill, the Growth of Science, and American Prosperity.” The Canadian Journal of Chemical Engineering, Wiley-Blackwell, 12 Apr. 2011, onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1939-0025.2011.01082.x.
- Narula, Svati Kirsten. “The Myth of Working Your Way Through College.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 1 Apr. 2014, www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/04/the-myth-of-working-your-way-through-college/359735/.
- Snyder, T. D. 120 Years of American Education: a Statistical Portrait. National Center for Education Statistics (US) (NCES), 1993.
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