Education

The Benefits of Free College

Briea Dorsey

Why isn’t college free? This question is a classic question asked by mostly every student that attends or has yet to attend college. No one truly has a complicated and arguably unclear answer to why college isn’t free.

The affordability of a college education, as well as the current student debt crisis, is always one of the main issues for student debt. In fact, many candidates for political office build their platforms around college costs as a key issue. 

On Sept 18th, 2019, New Mexico announced a plan is in the making for tuition at all state colleges, which will be available free for students regardless of family income. Many believe all states should be more like New Mexico. New Mexico Announces Plan for Free College for State Residents. The program in New Mexico would be open to all high school graduates or high school equivalency programs. In the state, all students will be required to maintain a 2.5 grade point average prior to graduating high school.

New Mexico’s Higher Education Department deputy secretary, Carmen Lopez-Wilson, said the program would benefit about 55,000 students a year at an annual cost of $25 million to $35 million. The idea were brought upon by many American families who argued about the rising cost of higher education and discussed how more free public colleges would gain power in state legislatures and on the presidential debate stage.

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New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, N.H. Photo credit, Cengiz Yar for The New York Times.

Very few states, such as New York, Oregon and Tennessee, have already guaranteed free tuition for two or four year public college to some students. New Mexico is doing it much more different, the state will be promising four years of tuition to even student whose families can’t afford to pay for college out of pocket. The program, which still requires legislative approval, is expected to be formally announced by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. It would apply to all 29 two and four year public institutions in the state. New Mexico plans to use climbing revenues from oil production to pay for most of the institutions costs.

Many say that the cost of attending college has become too overwhelming and it forces many to go toward the option of free tuition. The New Mexico tuition initiative will be the most ambitious in a growing national movement. One of the major issues in the Democratic presidential primary is college costs and student debt. Two of the leading contenders for the nomination- Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren- made promises to make all public colleges and universities free. Meanwhile, Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has a more limited proposal to eliminate community college tuition. 

Life of a College Student

Most low income students might have a better chance to graduate from college if tuition was free. As the University of Wisconsin’s Sara Goldrick-Rab notes in her exploration of free two-year college, as a nation we representative data that indicates that qualified and talented students who are concerned about rising college prices are 12 to 16 times more likely to waive college altogether. Some students drop out or are not even able to start college, because they do not have the ability to pay for tuition all four years. 

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College Debt, image from Google

More people would go to college if they knew the fear of student debt won’t come after them right after graduating from college. According to College Raptor.com, the average student graduate debt is about $37,000. If the average American college student graduates with less than $10,000 in student loan debt, they are considered lucky. In other countries most students don’t have to stress about loan debt. Instead, other country’s college graduates might buy houses rather than renting apartments. They might buy cars, spend more on better food, or even travel more because their school debt will just come from housing and books during their four years of college. 

The majority of college students have access to Federal Aid, which is known as FAFSA, but most schools will give students a hard reason to go for free money. Students may get scholarships from the college or universities, but that might not pay the full amount of tuition. This leaves students with no options but to take loans.

According to Mark Huelsman Associate Director, Policy and Research, “Plenty of evidence that even those who can meet their monthly payments are still struggling with student debt, or shifting other savings and financial needs aside to pay off their loans”. 

Many incoming students do not have the ability to choose the major they really want, because of the influence of parents or knowing the cost of paying loans back as quickly as possible. If college was free most students would have more freedom to choose a major they enjoy. “I didn’t know that I would be charged for my class until I looked at my bill. Attending class cost the same amount as attending the university alone”, said Briana Powell a Sophomore at the Delaware State University.

If students choose a major that they are not interested in, they are most likely to not do well in college or will not enjoy their career. Parents and many students would feel more relaxed if paying thousands of dollars is no longer a factor. Studying in a field of interest and enjoyment goes a long way in helping students to not give up on college or their careers. 

What’s Next?

The percentage of young Americans who have attempted college is much higher. About 64% among those are the age of  25-29, and 58% among all those are above 25. According to Demos.com, debt-free higher education stands to benefit those students, as well whether or not they graduate. About 66% of high school graduates immediately go to college after graduating, including 49% of low-income students.

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Black and Low-Income Borrowers Are More Likely to Drop Out, photo from U.S. Department of Education

Obviously, debt-free college can be the main point to increase attendance and graduation rates for low-income students, but it would also stand to benefit a much higher number of people that has been suggested.

 

Categories: Education, Opinion, politics

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