Throughout the democratic primaries last year, Senator Bernie Sanders was well known for his seemingly radical plan to make college tuition free. Although it might seem extreme to some, there is actually a strong case for making all public colleges and universities tuition free. Currently, free public education is offered to all students from kindergarten to 12th grade. Once they graduate however, the next step is not as clear. Most economists agree that higher education is important to upwards mobility, but many of these students cannot afford to go to college, which forces them to take out massive student loans or simply forgo higher education altogether. Student loan debt has become a horrible burden to many young college graduates, and has had crippling effects on the young workforce. At the same time, receiving a college education is not only a benefit to the graduate, but to society as well. A smarter, more educated workforce is one that is more productive and innovative. Also, while inequality in America is getting worse and worse, higher education, a tool for upwards mobility, has become more and more expensive. Free tuition would help all of these and be beneficial to our economy as a whole.
As I have said before, student loan debt is massive. The average 2016 graduate owes $37,172 in student loans. Essentially America is asking for people with entry level jobs to start paying off an amount equivalent to a BMW 230i convertible. This keeps our young working class from using their hard earned money on anything but necessities. A recent study shows 63% of borrows said debt affected their ability to make larger purchases such as a car, and 73% are not saving for retirement or investing for the future due to their debt payments. Student loan debt is seriously delaying young workers lives and keeps them from buying a house or doing other long term investing that would promote economic growth. On top of all that, 30% of responders also said that their debt had an impact on their career choice. Many would be innovators and entrepreneurs simply cannot take that risk due to their debt, hindering innovation and growth throughout the U.S.
Another big point is that having a more well educated workforce and population in general is beneficial to society as a whole. The government spends less on the average bachelor degree holder and also collects way more in taxes. Per person, there is an average net gain of $381,000 for every bachelor degree holder compared to a net gain of only $26,000 from those with a high school diploma. The government would literally make more money if there were more college graduates. Not only are there monetary benefits, but socioeconomic benefits as well. The probability of going to jail is 4.9 times lower, and volunteering is 2.3 times more likely for someone with a college degree. More college graduates will most likely lead to more tax revenue, less crime, and more charitable donations.
Unfortunately, more high school graduates are forgoing a college education with enrollment down 1.7% from 2015 to 2016. As economic gaps widen, this becomes more of a problem. The average college graduate earns $23,291 more annually than a high school graduate. If college prices keep rising, then attendance will continue to dwindle, making it harder for someone to escape the income bracket they were born into. The rich will be able to send their kids to school making them richer, while the poor cannot afford to do so.
Although making colleges tuition free has many benefits, there are of course many critics. One argument is that free college would only benefit those who can already afford to go, while poorer people still wouldn’t be able to attend because of high living expenses. I believe that could be remedied by giving financial aid for living expenses to lower income students. Another argument is that eliminating tuition fees will make the education worse and less valuable due to an increase of students earning college degrees just because it’s free. I would argue that by saying a college education has real value that doesn’t decrease just because more people have a degree. A smarter more educated population will lead to many benefits mentioned above, and would further promote long term innovation and growth.