Editorial: Two opinions on free college

Free college has merit, albeit with caveats

It has been a growing opinion in America, especially among youth and young adults, to follow the example of many European countries and create a free higher education system. This is a very appealing idea for obvious reasons. Free things are quite nice. When we are offered free things, it makes us feel as if we are cheating the system; getting off easy. With student debt topping 1 trillion dollars in America it’s easy to see, how offering a free alternative causes some excitement.

Clearly, however, nothing is truly free. Everything costs money. A truly free education would not be within our standards. Establishing a “free” education system requires the general population to pay higher taxes to cover the cost of the system. This is a socialized education system.

It’s the word “socialized” that gets people, particularly right-wing people, afraid. It has been ingrained into Americans to be afraid of anything socialist. Socialism is evil, godless, Russian. The increased taxes are a big concern for those whom this free education would not directly benefit. Why pay more money for something that does not help you? Because it does. With higher education becoming available to more people, the demand for a college education will increase. More people will go to college, receive a higher education, and acquire a higher paying job. The availability of a higher education to many more people would have an unimaginable effect on the country. With this system, people can pull themselves out of poverty. The benefits people have this access to higher education should supersede any fear of taxation. Out of all of our taxes, education is livable. It changes lives. We should welcome that tax.

Not to say that there are not concerns for free college education. America would have the same problem that some other countries have where students stay in school for years because it’s free. Everything is provided for them so why should they try to graduate so quickly? Also, they are not paying for the education so the determination to succeed will not be present. In fact, the capitalistic advantages will have no effect on colleges anymore. The competition between schools would not be as prevalent so they would not need to compete to make the better “product.”

Like any big change to the functions of a country, there are some concerns. I believe, though, that providing the option of higher education to everyone is worth it. We can benefit from people who otherwise would not have had the money to pay for college. There must be many intelligent people who can’t reach their potential because of financial setbacks. By opening the option of education to everyone, every person has the chance to make a difference in the world.

There's no such thing as a free lunch

Free college sounds nice.

"Let us work together to empower today's youth to change the world, freeing them from the shackles of student loan debt to invest in our future."

"Count me out, I'd rather make today's youth languish in low paying jobs and be beholden to debt collectors indefinitely."

I mean really, who is going for option number two?

And don't get me wrong -- it is ludicrous that college costs, according to one Forbes report, 250% as much as it did in 1986, even with an adjustment for inflation. But the solution to burgeoning college costs is not for the government to pick up the bill.

When we interviewed Congressman Joe Pitts a few weeks ago, we asked him about higher education affordability. Here is what he said:
"The solution to high costs—whether in education or health care or anything else—is not to simply move the costs onto someone else, but to actually deal with the costs and reduce them. We can bring down costs the same way we bring down the cost of anything else: by increasing supply and by making use of the competitive nature of the free market. Using the government to force people who do not or will not go to college (or their parents) to pay for other people to go to college does not strike me as fair. Neither does simply funding whatever colleges ask. It is a historical fact that the more the government has guaranteed in funding to colleges and universities, the more expensive attending them has become." -- Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA16)
If the government is simply going to foot the bill for whatever college costs, what incentive on earth do colleges have not to further raise their prices through the roof?

An April report in The New York Times postulates that it is the rapid increase -- to the tune of 221% -- in administrative positions in colleges, many with seven-figure salaries, that has caused tuition even at public universities to skyrocket.

A massive government program guaranteeing every 18-year old in America the right to free college certainly seems likely to even further protrude the sizes of college's administrative staffs, as they fight to recruit students to attend their universities who no longer have to pay to do so.

Moreover, bestowing another entitlement on Americans seems to be an unwise proposition. The "right to college" should not be on the level as the "right to free speech" or the "right to privacy". If students can attend college for free, it erodes the motivation to be efficient, to work hard, to finish a degree in some reasonable period of time.

Not to mention, everyone does not need to go to college.

In a recent Republican debate, Marco Rubio aptly commented, "For the life of me, I can't understand why we have stigmatized vocational education. Welders make more than philosophers."

There are a number of options that set someone on the right course for the future that are not the traditional four-year college model that candidates like Bernie Sanders propose to make available to everyone.

LNP opinion editor Suzanne Cassidy tweeted, "I will say Stevens College [Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology] graduations are so fun to cover because grads have jobs."

In contrast, rarely does a week go by without another news report discussing the unemployment or underemployment of college graduates.

Adding more recent college graduates with otherwise mediocre credentials to the job market certainly does not seem likely to stimulate the growth proponents of "free college" suggest.

All that said, college -- or any post-secondary education for that matter -- should be affordable to all those willing to ardently seek after it.

And given its current investment in the higher education system through programs like Pell Grants and the GI Bill, the federal government could appropriately wield its influence to allow its monies to go to schools that are transparent about where the money goes, something that might drive down costs.

The way to make college affordable, however, is not to make it free. That's the way to bankrupt America.
This is an opinion piece that reflects the opinions of two members of the LSNews.org editorial board. The first opinion is that of Aaron Davies, opinion editor, while the second is that of Benjamin Pontz, editor-in-chief. Neither represents the official position of the Lampeter-Strasburg School District. Questions or concerns can be directed to lspioneernews@gmail.com.


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