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The question of college education being free or paid has raised many debates on a worldwide level. As expected for something that puts the future at stake, many people are passionate about this particular matter. There are many differences of opinion among people regarding the functioning of the current higher education system. However, a question of such complex nature should be addressed with a balanced investigation of all advantages, disadvantages and alternatives to paying for college.
When it comes to the education of young people, affordability is one of the biggest concerns. It so often happens that students decide not to continue their education because of the cost, which leaves them at risk of not being employed or not being able to show their qualities.
This is not a widely known fact, but the Morrill Act of 1862 actually enabled free high education for Americans. According to this act, states were allowed to create land-grant colleges on federal lands, which made it possible for everyone to attend college without any fees. This was possible mostly because of the small number of people who opted for continuing their education.
As the number of students who enrolled in higher education increased, so did the funding requirement. This is how the fees of today resulted to be so high, that many talented students around the world cannot afford to attend college.
According to the 2013 estimates, Americans earn 60% more if they hold a bachelor’s degree. Sure, if people are allowed to attend higher education without fees they will be free to contribute to their talents and will not have to start off with a student loan. They would be able to focus on their studies rather than on their loans and collective challenges would be fast solved in the world when the majority of people are highly educated.
But, is making college free so simple? In order to pay for free college, the government would have to increase the taxes and implement new ones. When this happens, more and more people will chose to attend free colleges and the wait lists will expand fast, perhaps even to a level where people would have to wait for years to enroll. Additionally, the state budgets may remain too strained even after increasing taxes, which in term may cut down many of the amazing college programs students now enjoy.
If students are allowed to study without fees, won’t they still have to cover living expenses, books expenses and food expenses while at college? The removed cost of college will certainly leave students with less debt, but it will never result in a completely clean slate.
Giving everyone the opportunity to study without paying will not only increase the number of students, but will make the college become perceived as less serious. When college is given as a free option, there is a great risk of graduation numbers dropping. Also, teaching so many students may be a difficult task, so many students may graduate without being prepared for the workplace.
Being dependent on the family until college comes and then becoming dependent on the government programs will reduce the ability of students to become financially aware and independed.
The final and most important reason why colleges should not be free is the degrees. The value of degrees will gradually decrease to a level where a college diploma is so common, that it does not provide any advantage in employment.
The reasons of both sides are strong, so perhaps a clear mind may consider a middle ground between the two. As we concluded, public colleges come with many problems that may ruin the importance of the college degree. But still, depriving talented students from the ability to continue their education because they are not rich or making them pay college debts for years after graduating cannot be right either.
A middle ground would be a repayment system based on the income. This would mean that students would be able to pay off their loans depending on the income they receive. If they start earning below a certain amount, they should be freed from making payments. When they find a better position or reach higher in the workplace, the rates should be set accordingly.
If this is something that could be implemented in the repayment of every student, that would be considered a good common ground. Being able to pay an affordable price whatever your salary is is a sure advantage. If the income increases, the student can pay the loan quicker. However, if their salary remains low, the loan eventually expires.
This principle is used in Australia, more specifically trough their Higher Education Loan Program. In Australia, the government has added the advantage of not applying any interest to the student loans. This program allows students to get established without feeling the stress of paying off increasing loans and be able to take a lower-paying job until they find the right one.
College is considered a luxury nowadays. Therefore, many students decide not to continue their education because of insufficient funds. Others decide to get loans that they would have to pay off years after they finish college. This makes students obliged to take jobs that they do not want to work, simply because they need to make a lot of money right away in order to pay their loans. Still, this does not mean that making college free is a better option. It simply means we need to find a common ground.