The Downfalls of Free College

Free college has been an idea that many people are open to as college tuition rates have been rising. But is it really that easy?

Photo credit: Caribbean National Weekly

Photo credit: Caribbean National Weekly

Over the last 30 years, the average cost to attend a public four-year college has tripled, according to the College Board. Additionally, a survey conducted by the Princeton Review found that out of 14,000 participants (students and parents), 41% said their biggest concern for college applications was the amount of debt they would have to take on to pay for a degree.
Statistics like these have sparked conversations over the possibility of free college, and along with that, whether or not making college free would be beneficial. As high school students, these scenarios don’t stray too far from our reality, considering many of us plan on attending college to take our next big step forward in life.
But while current college tuition rates have gotten undeniably out of hand and continue increasing at an alarming rate, making college free would not be the most optimal solution. Here’s why:
For starters, college can never truly be “free.” The perception many individuals seem to have about the concept of free college is that you still have to get accepted into your desired school, you just don’t have to pay for it, but if you’re not paying for tuition, who’s contributing to the funding of resources, buildings, and occupations that relate to college?
Take public school (K-12), for example. The resources and supplies that you use at schools are provided for by taxpayers. The word is self-explanatory — people who pay taxes. So although public school might be free of charge for you, that’s only made possible by taxpayers.
The whole idea of free college simply means we would continue to rely on taxpayers to pay for our education, but considering the current cost of college, the only way taxes can go is up. According to the U.S. Department of Education, taking away the cost of tuition for public colleges and universities would cost at least $79 billion per year, with taxpayers taking the brunt of the bill. And of course, once you graduate and get employed, what are you going to eventually end up doing? Although free college would allow you to attend your institution at no cost now, it’s ultimately going to result in you paying for someone else’s education in the future.
But while eventually we’re going to have to start paying taxes that will go into funding education, whether it be K-12 or college, we’re not adults yet. We’re still students, and as students, since we’re not paying for school ourselves we don’t really consider how valuable our education is. Not many high school students can confidently say that they don’t take high school education for granted. There’s no reason undergraduates couldn’t feel the same way if college became free. People lose motivation when there’s not much on the line if you happen to discontinue, and there’s no better motivation than to just not waste money.

There is no obligation for a person to continue pursuing a higher level of education, and this becomes increasingly more evident as students begin graduating high school. So without that extra incentive of not wanting to feel guilty for wasting money, the likelihood of students engaging in activities that don’t pertain to their education increases. If that’s going to be the case, why would I want to eventually start paying taxes that aren’t being used to their full potential?

People lose motivation when there’s not much on the line if you happen to discontinue, and there’s no better motivation than to just not waste money.”

— Huilin Cui

Now of course, assuming that all or even most people wouldn’t make good use of free college would be pessimistic and inappropriate. There are undoubtedly a countless number of bright and intelligent individuals who deserve a proper college education, but unfortunately, aren’t in the financial position to do so. So what exactly can be done about the ever-increasing prices of post-secondary education, especially for the said people who can’t afford it?
Lowering costs would be the obvious solution, but concluding that we could just decrease the price of college would be optimistic, for a lack of better words. It’s not impossible, but I can’t say I would expect the cost to go down by any significant, or at least helpful amount. However, it doesn’t take loads of cash for both students and educators to focus more effort on student success. All too often, the focus is put on enrolling students in college, rather than the outcome of getting a college education — that is, graduating with a degree and going on to get a job.

Students who are in a difficult financial situation will most likely have to take out loans if they want to attend college, but student loan debt is one of the main reasons they hold themselves back from achieving higher education. In order to give students from low income families a chance at attaining a college degree, we have to lower the burden of student debt, especially if we aren’t going to decrease the cost of college. And the best way to get rid of student debt is to pay it off.
By teaching students more about their options after high school and focusing more on helping them find a path that benefits their success, the price of college will become more worthwhile and students will have a clearer understanding of what’s to come after graduation. This will then increase their confidence in themselves to find a job that’s suitable for them, and they’ll gradually be able to pay off student loan debt without having to face an overwhelming amount of anxiety over it.

All too often, the focus is put on enrolling students in college, rather than the outcome of getting a college education.”

— Huilin Cui

Another thing to keep in mind, not everybody is ready for college. If a high school student is evidently not ready to proceed forward after graduating, why force it? It not only becomes a waste of money, but also time, seeing as you can’t expect somebody who is not ready for college to get anything out of 4-8 more years of school. College doesn’t determine the amount of success you’ll have in life, so if it’s not for you, don’t force yourself and save that opportunity for someone who might feel differently.

As hopeful as free college may sound, there are a lot more downfalls then one might initially think. Free college may solve problems temporarily, but in the long run, it might even end up doing more harm than good. So the next time that question comes up, consider your options. Free doesn’t necessarily mean beneficial.