Should College Be Free: Balancing Equality and Sustainability

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The curiosity that I have had on this whole topic of higher education is why our country doesn’t offer free education at our non-profit or community college level. From what I know, most who attend a community college are either taking continued education or are not able to afford the tuition, fees, materials, and dorm costs that come with a university. It seems that more and more students or potential students are attending community colleges.


Equality and Access to Education

They are more affordable, there is more class availability and flexibility, and credits transfer to university if you need to go beyond two years. It’s a great starting point for young students right out of high school and, most times, for older students who are maybe stuck in a rut or have lost a job due to company closure or restructuring. Sometimes adult students even consider another career choice. I know that in some other countries, higher education is a priority making it very affordable or even free. I know that most of the argument, which is in everything, is politics and government. Whatever increases our financial gains as a country, it is a priority.

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Financial Strain and Sustainability

There is a lot of debate on whether public, community-based college should be free or not. The question is valid as I was doing my research, the pros, and cons that were presented canceled each other out in many ways. There are so many valid points on each spectrum of the topic that I can see why nothing has been set in stone, at least for our country. There are several countries that have already adopted and implemented tuition-free or reduced-cost college.

Before doing my research, I only knew of the UK being the place to live as they took care of their college students. But after reading, there are several others that do this as well. England, Germany, France, Mexico, Brazil, Denmark, Estonia, Norway, Slovenia, Sweden, Turkey, Poland, and Europe, just to name a few. Even some of the states have adopted this way, Minnesota, Oregon, and Tennessee. Their governments have already smoothed out the rough edges and are already implementing the programs, making education a priority.

Author Kevin Carey, policy director of the Education Sector, in his article “A College Education for All, Free and Online” (1), speaks of a gentleman by the name of Shai Reshef, founder and president of the University of the People. He started a tuition-free online institution that enrolled its first class of students in 2009. The Reshef goal is to provide higher education to those students that do not have access to higher education. He says, “Some can’t afford it, or they live in countries where there are simply no good colleges to attend. Others live in rural areas or identify with a culture, an ethnicity, or a gender that is excluded from public services.” (1) There are a few requirements that students must meet.

Balancing Government Spending

They must have a high school diploma and must be proficient in the English language. A small application fee, anywhere from $10 to $50, is also required at the time of registration. Now Reshef has 1000 students in 115 different countries attending the UoPeople, as he calls it. Reshef believes that “pulling students from different cultures together is a step towards peace. He also mentioned “that low-cost, online higher education tools are the future for most people” (1), making this UoPeople a favorite amongst students. He believes that there are still thousands of students looking for this kind of help, making his vision sustainable for the future of UoPeople. However, some may disagree with his view.

Andrew P. Kelley is a resident scholar and the director of the Center on Higher Education Reform at the American Enterprise Institute. He writes an article in the NY Times, “The Problem that Free College Isn’t Free.” He says that college isn’t free. That the cost of free college just gets deflected onto taxpayers, therefore, causing public strain on budgets. Kelley also says that rather than spread funding to ALL; we should apply those funds to those who need it.

“A valuable degree is worth the investment even if you have to pay something for it.” (2) Basically, stating that if we just give away funds so students have access to “tuition-free” education that there really is no value in a degree as well as funds will likely be taken for granted, which in turn cause drop out rates to go sky high. The taxpayer gets angry about giving away their money for those students who really have no respect or motivation to achieve higher education, therefore, causing the debate to continue rather than looking at alternatives.

Value of Education and Motivation

With the rising cost of tuition, there is becoming less and less of an opportunity for high school graduates to enroll in college and earn a degree. Like 12-year-old Isabella from Simmons, “The Danger of Telling Poor Kids that College is the Key to Social Mobility.” Although it seems that she didn’t let anyone stop her from pursuing higher education, they certainly did try. She was told from a young age “to think of her family and their hopes for her, that if she got good grades that she would get into a good college and have a good career with financial independence.” (3) Isabella’s essay acknowledged her lack of economic advantages as well as her parents’ struggles which pushed her to look for intellect versus the focus on her economic status and family’s history of struggle.

As Simmons mentions, “Students are preoccupied with money. They don’t have the privilege to NOT worry about it.” (3) They dream of specific models of cars, huge houses in good neighborhoods, and meals at their favorite restaurants regardless of availability and cost. The point is if we just give students free money for college, we are also giving away the privileges of education. We are not helping with intellect. We are encouraging entitlement regardless of financial status. The proposal of free college would not only reduce the cost of education for many who already qualify for free or lower-cost education, but it would also provide free education for the students whose families have the means to pay for part or all of a college education. Therefore leaving the low-income students in virtually the same boat they are already in.

Balancing Government Spending

On the one hand, tuition-free college would promote fairness and create equality along with a guaranteed education. There would essentially be no more student loans, as there would be no need for them. Students would be able to follow their passions and abilities. The high cost of education would no longer be an obstacle. Two years of free community college allows Americans the first half of a bachelor’s degree without the debt. President Obama, while in office, proposed “America’s College Promise.” This, he says, is a “common sense idea to make community college free for all students,” and “no hardworking young person should be denied the promise of an affordable, quality education.”

Obama wasn’t the only one to promote a “promise.” In 2006, Michigan proposed the Kalamazoo Promise. As long as students continued schooling in the Kalamazoo school district from K-12, they would be eligible for 100% of tuition and fees paid to ANY public college or university in Michigan that accepts them. ( ) That is a great incentive to get your education. The downside to tuition-free college would be the likely increase in taxes. Students would flood the market, making certain courses limited to attain. Overcrowding adds to the cost of facilities that could carry such an influx. There would be a strain on limited resources. No motivation to earn a degree. Since there are so many thoughts and actions addressing this topic, alternatives could very well be an option as well.


The average cost of higher education in 2018, according to Sarah Goldy-Brown (4), is $10,020 for room and board and $11,490 for tuition and fees. So, with all the controversy, what about some alternatives to the issues at hand? Instead of completely tuition-free education, maybe there could be an income-based repayment system. This would help the student with loans or costs to pay a set amount based on their income so as not to increase their financial burdens not only with school but in daily living expenses. Maybe we increase the PELL Grant money and cut back on student loans.

Employers could promote incentives for employees on the job training. The issue remains taxes. Public education is funded by property taxes, so those would go up. We would have to decrease our military budget, which, in this day and time, America must have provisions for. Some other points to consider are acquiring money. Governments could close the tax loopholes with companies who avoid paying their taxes, increase the tax rates on millionaires and billionaires, as well as crack down on wasteful government spending.


  1. “The Case Against Education: Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money” by Bryan Caplan
  2. “The College Dropout Scandal” by David Kirp
  3. “Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream” by Sara Goldrick-Rab
  4. “The Free College Idea: How to Get a College Education without Going Broke” by Bob Rothman

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Should College Be Free: Balancing Equality and Sustainability. (2023, Aug 14). Retrieved from

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