It’s weird to hear that out of a millennial and possibly hypocritical to hear it from someone with a college degree but here we go: I oppose free college tuition. Here’s why.
The first and perhaps most important reason I don’t want free college tuition is because I do not want to invite the taxpayer into my education decisions. I think something most people forget when it comes to subsidization programs is that when you subsidize something like health care, you’ve invited the taxpayer into your life. Let’s consider an example: birth control. There’s a funding of birth control argument going on in the United States right now. Some people want the government to fund birth control to those that wish to claim it. That’s fine, you’re allowed to want whatever you want to want. When you want something subsidized by the government though, that’s when things get hairy. Now it’s not you paying for it, it’s not you spending your money on something that you want but rather you spending my money, and my neighbor’s money, and so on for something that you want. And now that you’re spending our money on something that you want, we get to have a little say in how we’d like our money to be spent.
Now let’s apply this to education. Secondary schools have a curriculum set by the state and partially by the feds. Some schools offer electives, but by and large they conform to an education standard that you have no control over and the student has no control over. We already see this in part for higher education in the general education courses. But those usually take 1-2 years to complete, after which you are free to select courses that suit your major and your liking. If we were to subsidize education, those options could be largely restricted, in fact even the degrees you may obtain could be severely restricted. Now that the taxpayer is funding your education, the taxpayer gets to decide what gets taught and what doesn’t get taught. They get to decide what degrees get handed out.
What you’ve also done is invited the taxpayer to set minimum requirements on entry into college. I may be wrong, but at this time I think pretty much anyone willing to pay for college may go to college. There’s a joke which says colleges would offer underwater basket-weaving as a major if it were profitable to do so. Which I personally find great. If you want to go to school for underwater basket-weaving and you can afford it, good on you! That’s the American dream! But if the taxpayer gets involved and says that they think that it’s a waste of time to send students with a high school GPA less than 3.0 to college, suddenly colleges get a lot emptier.
You’ve also invited the taxpayer to set the requirements to maintain that funding. Let’s say you have to maintain a GPA of 3.0 or higher throughout all of your years in college. Seems reasonable enough, right? Well let’s take that bright student and suppose something happens in their lives halfway through their education which causes their grades to drop. Let’s not use romance… let’s say there’s a death in the family. The student’s uncle dies. The student gets depressed, their grades drop below the 3.0 GPA minimum and now they can’t get funding for the year because of something entirely beyond their control. The student, no matter how bright they may be has lost their chance because their funding got handed to someone else who fit the requirements through no fault of their own.
Let’s revisit the restriction of majors thing. Now I don’t suspect majors will no longer be offered, rather that the student that wants to major in whatever may not be eligible for free tuition. Let’s take a relatively useless degree like Gender Studies. A Gender Studies degree isn’t good for a lot of jobs. Taxpayers don’t want their money to be handed out to degrees which don’t enrich the country. They don’t want their money going to degrees that don’t result in good jobs. What this means is that STEM degrees will likely be the only degrees in which a student may be eligible for free tuition. A possible benefit to this sort of system is that it will encourage people to go to higher education for STEM degrees, but it’s not like those programs aren’t in place right now. If you’re a black woman that wants a STEM degree, the government and various charities will THROW MONEY AT YOU to get it (for the sake of ‘diversity’).
People also tend to note that we’ve run into an issue of ‘escalation’ in which a college degree today is the high school degree of 30 years ago. While true, you don’t solve the problem by making college tuition free. We actually have the exact experiment to prove the results already – high school (depending on location) is already subsidized mostly by the government. It has been that way for quite some time. Pretty much everyone is getting a high school degree. Imagine now that you subsidize college and everyone gets a Bachelor’s degree. You’ve raised the floor to where a Bachelor’s degree is no longer useful and now employers will want a Master’s degree. And then you’ll inevitably turn around and say ‘Now we gotta subsidize graduate school’ to the point where all education is subsidized. You’ve turned an investment towards getting higher income potential into the floor. College will no longer increase income potential like it (arguably) does today. Instead it will become the minimum requirement, and people who fail to excel in high school, or people who fail out of high school will be left to the wolves. The dropout rate in the United States is about 6.5%. Do you think that 6.5% is struggling today to get jobs because of high school diploma requirements? Imagine a world in which the high school diploma is no longer the floor. They’re going to struggle even harder. To put that into perspective – the current unemployment rate is around 5% (I know about the workforce participation business, let’s just set that aside). If the high school diploma is the floor right now, and the unemployment rate is 5%, do you imagine that if we raise the floor to college degree that the unemployment rate will increase or decrease? Do you think that 6.5% will be able to get a job or not? Those inter-city students that Teach for America focuses on? They are probably screwed.
In summary, I don’t see free tuition as a benefit. I only see it as a way of restricting options and harming the lower class. I do see the benefits that it may yield in the way of providing a path for more STEM degrees, but I don’t see the trade-off as worth it. I already complain about public education as being a way of putting all students into boxes by manufacture date, with a curriculum designed to make them all equal. Do not bring this to higher education. The only outcome I see for free tuition is a fleet of drones produced every year, and that’s not the America that I want to live in. Thanks for reading.