By Alex Graf
If you’re a college student struggling with the financial burden of getting a four-year degree, you’re far from alone. According to the Federal Reserve, American college students carry a whopping total of $1.48 trillion in student loan debt among 44.2 million borrowers, which comes to $39,400 per borrower.
But what if instead of paying off loans, new college graduates had more cash to pump into the economy by starting a family, and investing in things like homes, cars and other commodities? There’s a simple solution to these problems, and the answer is making public college and university tuition-free. After all, we already fully fund public education for grades K-12. Is making the next four years of schooling really all that outrageous?
As it turns out, the idea of tuition-free college isn’t actually all that radical and has extensive public support. According to an August Reuters poll, 60.1 percent of Americans support the idea. Even within our own borders, tuition-free college of varying degrees has been implemented successfully in places already. For example, Tennessee and Oregon have already made community college tuition-free, though it’s worth noting those programs aren’t as comprehensive as the tuition-free programs abroad, and a lot of students are left out.
In regards to the cost, the funding for such a program wouldn’t be as difficult to come by as detractors would have you believe. According to the New America Foundation, the federal government spent $69 billion, not including loans through financial aid programs like Pell Grants, tax-breaks and work-study funding in 2013. According to data from the Department of Education, that’s more than the additional $62.6 billion that tuition-free college would cost annually
A different way to frame the cost of tuition-free college is to compare it to our bloated military budget. The War on Terror (post 9/11 wars) for instance, will cost the U.S. $5.9 trillion through 2019 according to the Watson Institute. For the same amount of money, the U.S. could have funded tuition-free college in the U.S. for several decades
The point is, the United States just doesn’t value education in the same way we appreciate blowing people up. Wouldn’t tuition-free college have been a better investment than the endless cycle of foreign intervention the U.S. has engaged in for decades? While we’re at it, we could even look into canceling all student loan debt, creating universal pre-k, and fully funding trade schools and apprenticeships.
Some of the most bipartisan votes in Congress have been to increase the military budget by tens of billions of dollars. With a majority of American supporting college for all, why shouldn’t Congress be able to pass a bold education package similarly? Perhaps it’s time to fundamentally change the way we think about education in this country. Perhaps it’s time for a change of priorities.