THE STRUGGLE OF THE AMERICAN EDUCATION SYSTEM THE ISSUE: WHETHER COLLEGE TUITION SHOULD BE FREE IN THE U.S.
Education is a key tenet in the economic development of USA. Its importance cannot be underestimated and especially higher education. In addition to benefiting the individual, it is also advantageous to the nation as a whole. Education liberates and frees one’s mind through the knowledge it imparts and it is from such liberated minds that new innovations are born which bring about greater economic growth in the nation.
There has been an ongoing debate has to whether college tuition should be free in the US. It is especially getting heated presently after the president made a proposal in January 2015 to make the community college two years tuition free. The federal government is to cover up to three quarters of the fee while the states covered the rest. (Wiener) The latter goes to further note that; incase the states agreed to go through with the initiative, they would benefit up to 9 million people saving each up to 3,800 dollars every year. (Wiener) This has attracted lots of opinions, both criticisms from the opponents and praises from the proponents. There are a great number of congressmen who have dismissed this initiative. (Stratford)
However before being to dismiss this milestone of a proposal there is need to be remembered that tuition free in colleges in the USA has been going up for a period of time now. For instance, Wiener notes that the University of California the tuition fee is likely to go up to 15, 564 dollars (Wiener) However before all this, an examination of history reveals very interesting facts. That for instance, college tuition was actually free previously. In addition, there is need to note that there are countries that have adopted these kind of policies and today they are offering college education without any tuition fee, some of them include; Finland, Sweden, Norway etc. it therefore reveals that there is a possibility of carrying out with proposal since in US this is not the case and students have to pay through their college education. Proposals have been made to the government that gives an outline as to how this can be developed.
Making of college education tuition free is likely to be highly beneficial and advantageous to the individuals likely to be affected and the economy as a whole as noted earlier. Though the opponents of this idea are likely to give very convincing arguments why this is a bad idea, these should just be viewed as challenges that are inevitable in every beneficial project likely to be undertaken. The focus should therefore be on the benefits likely to be gained from such investments or undertakings rather than the few limitations likely to be encountered. This paper will seek to examine the advantages likely to be gained by making the college tuition free while still looking at the arguments of the opponents and how challenges likely to be faced should be solved. It is possible to meet the costs of such an endeavor as will be seen later in this paper. it is important to note this early that there are states already having these facilities such as; Minnesota, Oregon and Tennessee.
ARGUMENTS IN FAVOR OF TUITION FREE COLLEGE EDUCATION, COUNTER ARGUMENTS AND RESPONSES
College education is a right for all persons or students with the capacity and the will to pursue it, the poor and the rich alike. Lack of funds should not be the reason for one not being able to enjoy this right. This argument largely alludes to those with an inability to cater for these tuition fees. It is not a disputed fact that not everyone is from a well off and able family that is in a position to support them through the college education and therefore those with no ability to pay for such fees end up not attending college. These are mostly those who come from either poor or middle class families. Warren, for instance notes that the tuition fee for colleges have risen up by 350% and that today the cost of the public or college education has risen from 4% of the basic annual income of the family, 40 years ago to 15% today. (Warren) Though this is the case however, he proceeds to note that the incomes of the low and middle class families have stagnated. Paying through college education therefore becomes a challenge to students cannot afford. Such students though having a desire to go through with the college education decide to forego college because of such tuition fees and other costs they have to cater for. In addition, Warren also notes that today it is estimated that the ratio of contribution of the state and the student is almost one to one, and in almost 25 countries, the students and their families bear almost half of the burden. (Warren) This was not the case previously, for instance in 1981, the state and local government covered for most of the funding for the public college education while the student contributed only 1/5 of the required tuition fee. This is highly criticized and such criticisms are valid as this should not be the case. The state should be covering the whole tuition fee or most of it in order to make it affordable to those who are not in a position to afford it. Those who are not able and are from poor backgrounds lacking in ability to sponsor their college education also deserve a chance and have a right to this education. Though, the offering of such tuition free college education should not discriminate on any of the students due to their social status as noted by Fernandez. He argues that, the social status should not be used in offering certain groups this kind of advantage while denying others since even private universities offer great discounts in order to attract more students. (Salomon, 1)
The opponents however argue that though it is being referred to as free tuition, it is not actually free as the costs of every student still need to be covered either way. (Andrew) This therefore means that what actually happens is only a shift from those catering for these fees and as is well known, the taxpayers are the greatest source of income for the governments both the state and the federal ones. They therefore argue that this is just going to burden the taxpayer further. However, though such an argument seems valid at the surface certain things need to be recalled. First, that the government uses an estimated 80 billion every year as an incentive to the students this including student loans, tax credits on students etc. ( Lumina Foundation) This money could therefore be directed to covering the tuition fee without necessarily having to make the burden on the taxpayer such an issue. Further, there are other ways this money could be raised without necessarily burdening the tax payer. For instance, the closing of any loopholes through which the companies avoid the payments of the corporate taxes, raising the taxes on the wealthy persons in the USA rather than focusing on the common citizen who lacks the ability to even cater for their needs. This will not only raise the money but will also act as a way of lowering the gap between the wealthy persons and the poor ones.
Further, the government could reduce the budgets on the other sectors such as the military. The US government, both the state and the federal seem to focus on other issues and forget the education sector especially when it comes to issues of budget. The governments keep cutting on the budgets of tuition in college till the student is left with the burden of covering almost all the tuition fee while the schools on the other hand have no option but to raise their fees. Warren for instance notes that this is already occurring in seven states. (Warren, 26) This should not be the case and effort should be made to raise the amount covered by the governments. The government can also check on its wasteful spending. There are very many ways that the government might be spending the hard earned money of the taxpayers wrongly. For instance, though initiatives that are not likely to benefit the people of America, corruption scandals in which lots of money is lost. The government needs to check on this and do away with such spending and focus on offering college education that is free of tuition fee. The use of these methods to raise this money will therefore mean that the taxpayers will not be as burdened as the opponents actually argue they will be.
Secondly, taking up such an initiative is likely to be of benefit not only to the individual but also to the economy as a whole. It will bring both a private gain and public gain. This is because, those acquiring a college education are able to fill up the talent pool and thus bringing about better innovative ideas to various sectors which will in turn result to the growth of the economy more. (DeNisco, 22) It is also estimated that those people who acquire a college education tend to earn 60% more than their counterparts who only have high school education. (US Department of Education) This will raise the standard of living of these people which will in turn result to growth in the various sectors of the economy. In addition it will lead to less reliance on the government as these people will be at a position to cater for their needs much more. This will in turn mean that the number under the welfare wing of the government will be greatly reduced leading to greater benefits to the economy. In addition, acquiring a college education is likely to bring about greater understanding in an individual and also elevate their decision making skills and their innovativeness. This might seem like it is for one’s gain but this is likely to benefit the economy as a whole. This is because such innovativeness is not only likely to reduce the issue of unemployment but will also most definitely bring about greater development of new ideas which are likely to benefit the economy as a whole.
Though the opponents agree that this is likely to happen once the tuition fee is abolished, they argue that this is likely to affect the quality of education negatively. Making the tuition fee free in college will mean that more students will be enrolled to college, this will in turn result to a raise in the budget of the college which might prove hard to meet and thus affecting the quality of education that is being offered. There will therefore be an increased number of graduates but who are likely to offer poor quality services. The argument is that, quality is of more importance than a great number of people with a college education but who offer very low services which is likely to have an effect on the whole economy as this will lead to decreased innovations and focus will definitely shift from service delivery to the public unto the desire to make money and grow rich. Further, it is argued that the students will not put as much effort since they are assured of the free college education. However, this challenge can easily be solved by simply raising the qualifications to get into college. It might be argued that this will beat the purpose of making the college education free but this is not so since it is crucial to have well qualified graduates rather than an increase of low quality professionals. Raising the qualifications of college will therefore be used to sieve the students in order to ensure that everyone who has the zeal and the capacity to pursue an education in college is not given the chance to do so. This will ensure that those who are intended to benefit actually do benefit. In addition, this will ensure that the number remains manageable so that the education offered in these colleges remains quality and is not diluted. Those who don’t qualify to get into college will be given the option of attending vocational training where they gain skills to apply later in their lives.
The other issue is in relation to the student debts. In order to fill the gap between the rising tuition fees and the stagnant incomes, students who are not at a position to cater for their college tuition end up taking up loans. The figure had risen up to 1.3 Trillion dollars in the year 2015 (Lumina Foundation) and is ranked second to the mortgage debts. This is an alarming figure and should raise questions on how to deal with. It is estimated that in the year 2012-2013 up to 20 million college students were given these loans. This was 66% raise from the previous decade. (Lumina Foundation) This reveals that, tuition fee poses a great challenge to a large number of students. These students therefore graduate with big debts that they are required to pay. This cripples their development and thus that of the whole nation or economy. They are forced to live in deplorable conditions and poor living conditions since they have to use part of their incomes in payment of these loans. In addition, investments become less since they one has to use every extra penny in the payments of these loans. It is therefore right to argue that the all this beats the purpose of education which is to use the knowledge acquired to better and improve one’s life. In order to prevent this from occurring therefore, there is need to make the college tuition free.
However, there are those that argue that the student needs to view the debts as an investment as it helps them acquire better qualifications and thus a better pay is likely to come their way without which they cannot be able to get to such positions. However, though this is the case, the repercussions that accompany such loans are discussed above and they most definitely outweigh any such benefits that the opponents allude to. These debts are a hindrance to any form of development and keep one stagnated for long taking away any ability to move on. The graduates are forced to live low class lives in order to cater for these loans. It is further argued that, the making of the tuition free in college will not make the students loans debts go away or reduce them. (Cubberly, 21) Though this is actually the case, such an initiative will most definitely prevent the loan from accumulating any further than it already has and will also prevent those getting into college upon the implementation of the proposal from facing what their predecessors face which will in turn raise the standards of living of the people and thus bring about the growth in the economy. Further, in the long run, it could result to reduction in the debt since those going through the education tuition free are in one way or another related to those went before them either their children or relatives and therefore they will help them in covering up these debts in the future.
Additionally, making the college tuition free will help in the exploitation of the full potential of an individual and ensure hidden talents are discovered. This is because many bright and promising students give up exploring their college education due to the high tuition fees that they encounter in these colleges as stated earlier or they choose to go to those colleges whose tuition fee is as much but that offer low quality services and limit their potential. This is a great loss to the state as probably if they were given a chance they could have largely contributed to the growth of the economy. In addition, they end up adding burden to the state as they will end up needing the support of the government.
In relation to this issue, it is argued that, though increased tuition fees could have contributed in the high cases of drop outs in college, other factors also do contribute to this. (Andrew, 1) These for instance include; family or social issues, non-qualifications of the students or even the quality of education being offered in the colleges. Making the education in colleges tuition free therefore will not guarantee that there will be increased in the number of those graduating as the other factors remain constant. However, it needs to be remembered that some of these other causes are brought about by lack of the tuition fee. If most of the dropout cases from college are followed up it would be surprising to find that most of them especially those from poor backgrounds though citing other issues as the reason for dropping out, the root cause is actually lack of tuition fee. This therefore means that the largest group usually drops out because of tuition related issues and thus doing away with the tuition fees is likely to result to a raise in the number of those completing and graduating from college which will definitely be to the benefit of the economy as a whole.
Cubberly argues that, an increase in the number of graduates does not necessarily mean any change in the economy or a guarantee for jobs. (p.21) this is because; there will be a great number of people in need of employment as more get educated thus reducing the value of the degrees. This will therefore mean that though the number is increasing there is no much change in the number of the employers. Due to this, it is argued, making the college education tuition fee free will not guarantee reduction in the unemployment percentage. However, this can be solved by the colleges working hand in hand with the various stakeholders when it comes to the college education and those whom are likely to offer these people jobs. This will help in knowing what the market actually needs and thus training the students to meet such needs and thus preventing circumstances where one sector is over flooded while the other is starved. In addition, the college education could be structured in such a way that the students are trained to be innovative enough to meet the new needs arising daily such that they are not fully dependent on employment as their source of income.
IS THE USA ABLE TO OFFER COLLEGE EDUCATION FREE OF TUITION?
As stated earlier, there are many countries that offer this kind of education such. What can be noted in these countries is the reduced students loans in comparison to those of US since in these countries the students take out loans to only cover the living costs and not to pay up for their tuition. For instance in Finland, the average college loan is $1200 in comparison to the average of the US which is $15,510. (European Expert Network on Economics of Education) In addition, it should also be noted that, another key issue to note is that in these countries the charge on the GDP in relation to the support of post-secondary education is not that different in comparison to these other countries. For instance, Finland spends 2.08 percent, Norway, 1.96 % and Germany 1.35 percent. This is not different with the US that spends 1.36 %. (European Expert Network on Economics of Education) This therefore means that the US has the ability and is in a position to go through with this initiative. As noted earlier there are other sources of income that can be exploited to ensure the meeting of the required costs. In addition, in order to show that the USA is able to go through facilities such as Tennessee, Oregon a as noted earlier and Minnesota. It therefore means that it is very much possible to go through with this.
The importance of college education cannot be overemphasized. The gains it brings don’t only benefit the individual person but also the public as a whole. The focus needs to be on maximizing its benefits and reducing the challenges that are faced in acquiring it, one of which is high tuition fee making it less affordable. College education liberates and frees one’s mind enabling them to come up with ideas that can greatly help in dealing with some of the toughest challenges facing the nation. As seen above, in addition to this, it brings a lot of benefits to the individual and the nation as a whole too. The arguments made against this initiative as seen above can easily be addressed. The question therefore is, are we going to focus on the few limitations likely to be encountered in this journey of attaining the full benefits of college education that is free of tuition fee or on the sumptuous fruits that we will enjoy if we persist and solve these few inevitable challenges?
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