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A Call for Tuition-Free Colleges

John Morris

The presidential election is coming up and all of the respective candidates have been busy
deliberating and debating their prospective policies. On the republican side, we have Trump and
Cruz spouting their beliefs on immigration, the privatization of healthcare, and the like, but on
the democratic side, we have Hillary and Bernie fighting over much more liberal policies.
Bernie, in particular, has proposed a few ideas that many might even see as radical. One of
these radical policies that is getting a lot of flack from the media, is the proposal for freetuition in public colleges and universities. As a college student and someone who is invested in
the future of our country, I would argue, that free-tuition colleges are neither a radical idea, or
economically unviable, but are actually a necessary step forward for our nation and economy.
Now is the time to act, with skyrocketing college debt (Daniels), a shrinking middle class
(Kochhar et al) , and increasingly liberal candidates like Bernie Sanders pulling the mainstream
political conversation to the left, this is the best chance to make the important step towards
tuition-free colleges. If we dont, we may end up with a nation of impoverished workers and
students. A future that is bleak both for the people, and for the economy.

First off, lets dispel the notion that free-tuition college is a radical idea. Many different
forms of free-tuition or debt-free college, have been utilized around the world to great success.
For example, according to StudyAbroad365.com, a website dedicated to providing information
on low-tuition school/studying abroad, Austria offers free-tuition to anyone from the EU,
Denmark offers completely free university education for European students, Finland gives free-

tuition for Bachelor and Doctoral programs regardless of nationality, France only charges
between 200 and 650 EUR ($220-750) per year as tuition, Norway provides free university
education to anyone, and Germany has a law that prohibits tuitions from being more than 1000
EUR (1141.35 USD), but universities in Germany frequently charge nothing at all ("Low and
Free Tuition Universities in Europe: Analysis of Low and Free Tuition Universities in Austria,
Denmark, Finland, France, Germany and Norway."). This is only a handful of countries who
have either free-tuition or exorbitantly lower tuition rates than the U.S. of A. These are all firstworld countries with healthy education systems. In fact, both Denmark and Finland rank in the
top four best countries for higher education in the world (U21 Ranking of National Higher
Education Systems."). So, not only is tuition-free college a commonly implemented idea, but it
still produces quality, world-class education. Free tuition isnt radical, its becoming the norm.
The United States cant be scared of change, it needs to pay attention and follow their
progressive European companions.

Now since thats out of the way, its time to focus on the implementation of free-tuition in
a country like the United States. One of the fortunate things about having so many European
countries that have tuition-free colleges, is the ability to see how others have successfully funded
and instated it. Germany took the step of transferring the cost of college from the student to the
taxpayer (Coughlan). This is a certainly a valid option, and it is working to great success in
Germany, but it does worry some people. One of these people is Andrew P. Kelly, the director of
the Center on Higher Education Reform at the American Enterprise Institute, free college isnt
free, it simply shifts costs from students to taxpayers and caps tuition at zero. (Kelly). Kelly is
right, it would definitely lead to an increase in taxes, but isnt one of the purposes of taxation

supposed to be to fund and benefit the public. The burden would be shared fairly by the
American populace, as opposed to financially punishing individuals for trying to achieve higher
education. It should be noted, however, that paying for free-tuition by simply raising taxes may
be harder for the United States than it is for Germany. There are two main reasons for this, the
first being that Americans as a culture are less accepting of raising taxes (many even want to
lower them still) (Taxes). The second being that Germany has a much lower percentage of the
population who attend college (27% (Coughlan)) in comparison to the United States (41.89%
(Educational Attainment)). Even if I concede that standard taxation may not be an effective
way to fund this, there are still other ways. As part of his 2016 presidential campaign, Bernie
Sanders, and his campaign team, have suggested an alternate way to fund free-tuition: a Wall
Street speculation tax (Sanders), or, a robin hood tax, as it is also known. Sanders proposes a .5%
tax on stocks and a .1% tax on bonds. So a $2000 stock transaction would pull in around 10
dollars in tax. Although this tax hasnt been used in the U.S. since 1966(Zarroli), it has been
supported by a large number of economists including the founder of modern economics himself,
John Maynard Keynes (Zarroli). According to Sanders, the cost of free-tuition be a total of 75
billion dollars, and just this tiny fraction of a tax, if well-implemented and enforced, will
completely fund it (Sanders). Even if you still dont like this plan, it has at least been made clear
that there are multiple effective ways to fund free-tuition college.

Now that it has been thoroughly shown that free-tuition college is both relatively
common and definitely possible to implement, its important to show why free-tuition college
must happen. There are many ways to approach this. The first thing we can look at is equality.
College needs to become more affordable for those with a lower socioeconomic status (SES for

short). In 2012, only 14% of low SES young adults graduated with a bachelors degree,
alongside only 29% of the middle SES. Meanwhile, 60% of the high SES graduated with
bachelors or higher ("The Condition of Education - Spotlights - 2015 Spotlights - Postsecondary
Attainment: Differences by Socioeconomic Status - Indicator May (2015)."). In the interest of
ethics, preserving the middle class, and pulling people out of Americas poverty trap, it becomes
a moral imperative to help even the odds for the less fortunate. Tuition-free college, would do
just that. Not everyone agrees with that however. In The Case Against Free College, Matt
Bruenig writes The main problem with free college is that most students come from
disproportionately well-off backgrounds and already enjoy disproportionately well-off futures,
which makes them relatively uncompelling targets for public transfers (Bruenig). While
Bruenig makes a fair point, I would argue that once tuition-free college gets enabled, it would
encourage the poorer families and students to apply, leading to a more balanced student body
with applicants from all socioeconomic backgrounds. The reasons for free-tuition goes beyond
ethics and sociology though. There is also a large economic argument to be made as well. For
one thing, the large amount of student debt is very unhealthy for the economy. According to
former Governor of Indiana and current president of Purdue University Mitchell E. Daniels,
todays 20- and 30-year-olds are delaying marriage and delaying childbearing, both unhelpful
trends from an economic and social standpoint. Between 25% and 40% of borrowers report
postponing homes, cars and other major purchases. Half say that their student loans are
increasing their risk of defaulting on other bills. Strikingly, 45% of graduates age 24 and under
are living back at home or with a family member of some kind. (Daniels). All of these are
worrying trends, a lack of spending means a lack of economic stimulus which will lead to much
slower GDP growth. People dont spend when they are in debt. Starting tuition-free college

wouldnt just get rid of debt, and all of its economic problems, but it would also lead to a
substantial increase in economic growth. According to data trends, enrollment should increase
with tuition-free college ("Projections of Education Statistics to 2021 - Section 5. Enrollment in
Postsecondary Degree-Granting Institutions: Introduction."). The increase in enrollment means
more skilled workers, and more skilled workers means GDP growth! Its basic supply-side
economics.

Establishing free-tuition isnt going to be easy. Its either gonna mean a tax-hike for most
of us, or its gonna mean a very slight drop of investment in the stock market. But the small
financial price the people and the businesses of America have to take will be well worth it. If it
isnt implemented soon, American education will fall behind other countries, our economy will
slowly collapse as student debt grows out of control, and the rich will keep getting richer as the
poor get poorer. The short-term financial costs wont just be well worth it, they will be necessary.
You cant put a price on promoting social welfare and equality. You cant put a price on
increasing the general knowledge and skills of the American public. And you most certainly
cannot put a price on pulling millions of young Americans out of a vicious poverty-trap that they
had no choice but to be born into. Even if you did put a price on it, basic economic theory and
current research tells us that student is very harmful, so it would probably be a net profit in the
long run. No matter where your politics lie, it should be easy to understand that tuition-free
college is both the right thing to do, and the smart thing to do.

Bibliography:

Kochhar, Rakesh, Richard Fry, D'Vera Cohn, Kim Parker, Claudia Deane, Renee Stepler, Anna
Brown, Michael Suh, Danielle Alberti, Michael Keegan, and Marcia Kramer. "The American
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"The Condition of Education - Spotlights - 2015 Spotlights - Postsecondary Attainment:


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"Educational Attainment." United States Census Bureau. U.S. Department of Commerce. Web.
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