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Head to head: Should college education be free?

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head to head college education 1
Graphic: Katie Nishimura | Loyolan

College education in the United States is incredibly expensive, and tuition continues to rise at most public and private schools every year, increasing more than 200% since 1988 for public schools. Interim opinion editor Yukana Inoue and opinion staff writer Caroline Thoms go head-to-head on whether college education should be free or not.

head to head college education 2
Graphic: Katie Nishimura | Loyolan

As college students at a private institution, we all know with our flesh and bones that college is ridiculously expensive. When I was applying to schools as a high school senior, I could not help but compare the price difference between U.S. colleges and universities back home in Japan, and I could not fathom what possible reason there was for it to be literally five times the price.

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As of 2019, the average tuition and fees of in-state public schools were $10,000 a year, and in 120 ranked private colleges, many were well over $50,000. well over $50,000. This burdens every student trying to receive higher education, having a detrimental effect on American society as a whole.

As can be imagined, this especially introduces significant difficulties for students from low-income households, who, despite their academic standing and ambitions, find it difficult to pay for the education they desire to receive. Even with need-based financial aid, students still have trouble keeping up with the constantly rising tuition and fees. This continues to perpetuate the inequality between the college-educated and the non-college-educated, continuing on a cycle of poverty in which inability to receive higher-education results in low-paying jobs. The effects of this inequality of education are exacerbated with the pandemic, with the unemployment rate among workers without high school diplomas being three times higher in comparison to those with bachelor’s degrees since May of 2020.

Even if one is able to jump through hoops and is able to pay for college by taking out student loans, the thought of student debt takes a toll on an individual’s academic performance. Research has shown that students with higher debt balances have significantly lower GPAs, are prone to take fewer credits and are less likely to major in STEM fields. With a free college education, however, students are able to focus on their academics, and studies have shown that students who attend community colleges for free graduate at a much higher rate.

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Considering beyond the individual, free college education benefits society as a whole. With tuition-free higher education, more students will be able to attend college, meaning there would be a more high-skilled, well-educated workforce. In the age of automation where many simple tasks are taken by technology, it is crucial for our society that we have workers with analytical and creative thinking abilities that can be honed in college.

Currently, 44 million Americans together hold more than $1.7 trillion in student debt. This stagnates our economy as a whole, with college graduates with debt less likely to spend money even after they start working. Since there is the constant anxiety of having to pay back their student debt, they are less likely to make big purchases like a car or a house. With free higher education, no college grad would have to worry about this, allowing for a boost in the economy in which people are more likely to spend money without repercussion.

A college education is a fundamental factor in shaping the future of an individual and by extension our society. Therefore, we as a country have more to benefit from providing free higher education and allowing more students to receive the education that they deserve.

This is the opinion of Yukana Inoue, a sophomore film, television and media studies major from Chiba, Japan. Email comments to editor@theloyolan.com. Follow and tweet comments to @LALoyolan on Twitter, and like the Loyolan on Facebook.

head to head college education 3
Graphic: Katie Nishimura | Loyolan

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Without a doubt, colleges need to be more affordable. Students shouldn’t be breaking the bank to better their future financial and professional prospects. That being said, offering an entirely free college education seems easier said than done.

Free tuition permits students to take education for granted. For many students, attending college is an opportunity to party and have fun, with class not at the forefront of their priorities. The social aspect of college is extremely important, but there may be little incentive for motivation with free college if students felt there was nothing to lose. Many students fear failing a class because it is a loss of money, but in a free college failing a class would only hurt your GPA, not necessarily your pockets, and dropping out seems like no big deal. Even beyond this internal value in place by students, the societal value of college degrees in a free tuition system is bound to lessen. Furthermore, the societal pressure placed on students to take advantage of a free college system is not beneficial for those who are ill-fitted for college, thus creating a waste in college resources.

In an interview with NPR, Tiffany Jones from The Education Trust explains, “We just want to be careful that we aren’t buying into the idea [of free college] but in reality spending a lot of money on wealthy students — not necessarily these students who struggle — and then, when the money is running out and 10, 15 years from now we look back, and we’re saying ‘OK, let’s do something for low-income students.’” There is already an economic divide within higher education, and it seems that the offer of free college will further this gap.

The New York Times reports, “A national push for tuition-free college would strain public budgets even further, leading to shortages rather than increased access. And because middle and upper-income students will gobble up many of the free public slots, rationing will hurt those who need access the most.” A free college option should benefit those of a lower income, but the premise of free college has the power to be abused by those who can afford higher education. Hard-earned taxpayer dollars should not be going to support the tuitions of rich kids.

The cost of college is not only unreasonable but also unfeasible. High education is a privilege that many are kept from due to the cost; this can no longer be the reality. Education is a gift that needs to be shared, thus we need to make a change to include those who feel left out on the playground of higher education. While a greater emphasis on merit and financial aid scholarship options may be solutions in achieving this vision of equitable higher education, tuition free college is not a viable option in that vision. Free college will only make it easier for those already on the playground of higher education to stay there.

This is the opinion of Caroline Thoms, a sophomore English major from Chicago, Illinois. Email comments to editor@theloyolan.com. Follow and tweet comments to @LALoyolan on Twitter, and like the Loyolan on Facebook.

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