Why College Should be Free

No, she's not studying for a test; she's looking at her bills and deciding if she can afford to skip dinner for the next month.
No, she's not studying for a test; she's looking at her bills and deciding if she can afford to skip dinner for the next month.

Shortly after I graduated from college I started receiving letters from my university, asking if I wanted to donate money. Upon getting these letters I became very angry and, when given a survey to fill out, I explicitly told them how insulting it was to ask me for more money after I had just spent upwards of $15,000 on a bachelor’s degree. Since I submitted that survey, I haven’t received another letter in the mail asking for money, though I don’t suspect I’ve seen the last of them. But I want to be clear; I loved my college years and would be more than happy to support the institution that instructed me, but the outrageous tuition rates have nixed any thoughts of donation until I become a millionaire author (I’m sure it won’t be long now).

I was fortunate enough to pay for college outright through a combination of scholarships, my job and my parents’ contributions. So when I left the doors in 2008, I had no student loans to worry about. This example, however, is extremely rare. I know someone who was the first in her family to go to college, which provided for a few grants, but not nearly enough for a full ride. The result was then a series of loans. Without knowing someone who had done it before, she didn’t know what channels to go through, or what loan companies would cooperate with students. Not only that, but her family declared bankruptcy and she knew no one that could co-sign a loan with her. None of this was helped by the fact that one of the loan companies that had already accepted her also went bankrupt. The result was a search through the internet to find someone, anyone, who would fill in the gaps to finish her education. Though she was able to find companies that would agree to put up the money, she now has to pay five separate bills to five separate places. If a job had been waiting for her after college, this might not have been a problem, but it wasn’t. She then spent the next two and a half years trying desperately to find a job, applying for everything from a department deli clerk to a book publisher, with no success. Perhaps it wouldn’t have been so bad for her if the loan companies had been understanding and let her defer the loans, or if she could have gotten a human being on the other end of the phone line. Several offered only limited deferments, which would run out regardless of income, and others refused deferments outright because of poor information systems (which didn’t record her name right and then told her she was providing the wrong information each time she tried to contact them) and because her husband’s single, part-time job was too much money to justify a deferment. I know all this because I am her husband.

We are not the only couple struggling with this problem right now. If anyone is wondering why the economy is so bad, it isn’t just a lack of jobs; it’s also an entire generation of college grads that use any extra money they get on paying bills. Of course the economy can’t get started up again, when none of us can afford to buy anything! A recent petition began circulating on the internet, asking our government to forgive all student loans as a means to jumpstart the economy. You can find the link for that here. While I support that petition fully, I think we need to go further, in order to prevent the next generation from swimming through an ocean of debt. College should be free.

If we all agree that educating our children is a good thing, then why do we make it so hard for them to get it?
If we all agree that educating our children is a good thing, then why do we make it so hard for them to get it?

A more educated generation equals more innovations, jobs and exported goods.

The United States is falling dangerously far behind other first-world countries where education gets the priority it deserves. Higher standards coupled with greater access to higher education means you’re producing a work force that modern companies want to hire. Not only that, but more innovations from educated individuals, leads to new products that similarly jumpstart purchasing and exporting. That’s not to say that all innovations come from college grads, but it’s a considerably better investment than hoping a million-dollar idea is just going to pop up to save the day.

Free college supports the idea of a life after high school.

We have a lot of struggling teens right now that think high school is the climax of their lives. It’s not, and we need to stop sending that message. Students need to know that there is more for them; that life means considerably more after those high school years. If they have the hope of something better, of pursuing what they want to pursue in a less toxic environment, it may just save a few lives.

Our citizens have the will, but not the way.

Especially now that jobs are in such short supply, future students will have even less avenues to college. There is no greater offense, in my mind, of a child who wants to go to college, but can’t because they can’t afford it. Student loans may provide a shaky path to that education, but what message are we sending when our most ambitious are punished for wanting to be successful? Our lives are too short to spend them working off debt from doing the right thing.

Start SOMEWHERE!

After watching congress trip over its own ego for the last three years, I’ve come to understand that nothing gets done easily. So while we may not get free college any time soon, we should try to start somewhere. I went to community college before I went to a university and I am incredibly thankful for my time there. Not only was it a more diverse population, but the teachers and students worked hard and were proud of the work they put out. Snootier people might look down on community colleges, but I think everyone should go to one. It provides a great stepping stone for universities, especially if you can transfer credits, or gives you an edge with certain jobs. If we could make community colleges free, that would step up our population’s education beyond high school and provide a work force that could afford to go to a university if they wanted to. I understand that these schools require a lot of money to run, so maybe we could still pay for books, food and lodging, in addition to government grants.

I may not know where the money will come from, or how else to make this possible, but it is clear to me that this is a problem that is only getting worse. With a generation in debt, they won’t be able to send their children to college either, which will result in less attendance at college or more debt on top of debt. Both are very bad roads we should avoid. But if we can lower the cost of college, or make it free, then maybe, just maybe, we can one day afford to donate to our favorite universities.

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Comments 21 comments

Man from Modesto profile image

Man from Modesto 4 years ago from Kiev, Ukraine (formerly Modesto, California)

Better yet, we should return to the system of journeymanships and apprenticeships that worked so well for hundreds of years. Instead, college is filled with more mental conditioning than actual training (except for the professional disciplines like Chemistry, Engineering, Math, etc.)

College will never be free. Student loans are the only debt you can never write-off in a bankruptcy. It is now larger than mortgage debt in the United States. The bankers and the greedsters are strongly behind selling you a brainwashing of an education. It's a win-win for them. They get paid, and graduates are much more likely to believe what they were required to put down on the answer sheets of exams.


M. T. Dremer profile image

M. T. Dremer 4 years ago from United States Author

Man from Modesto - I would disagree that higher education is the equivalent of brainwashing. Everyone has a different idea of it's value. My personal experience with it is judged based on how much I enjoyed it, how useful it is to me now, and the areas of knowledge it opened up. Depending on the degree of choice, it's true that a lot of things can be self taught, but not everyone has the drive or discipline to teach themselves. But you're right about the devious nature of student loans and how not even bankruptcy can get rid of them. So, not only is our workforce buried under debt, it's the kind of debt they can't bottom-out of.


gryphin423 profile image

gryphin423 4 years ago from Florida

When I graduated from college I too was really ticked off when I got my first alumni mailing with the money grab. I thought "Are you freaking kidding me you bloodsuckers?". Never mind the cost of books, that tuition is a killer and has only gotten worse. My husband and I both have student loans that won't be paid off for a decade. I like your take on things and I only wish it could come true, but there are so many complex issues wrapped up in that concept. Even just free vocational school and community college I think would be great and give some hope to those that have no way to pay for four years of college. But sadly it is a grim world out there. Thanks for the hub though, glad to see I'm not the only one who grumbles about those pleas for $$ that I don't have.


M. T. Dremer profile image

M. T. Dremer 4 years ago from United States Author

gryphin423 - It's true that there is a lot standing between America's youth and a free college education. While we can hope that the government will pay the bill, the benefits of doing so wouldn't be immediately felt in the economy. It would take years for these students to get their education then start making contributions to various fields that will inevitably create more jobs. Since U.S. citizens are frustratingly impatient, it would likely be seen as a failure without instant results. So, even though this kind of system makes perfect sense to me, it would be next to impossible to convince enough government officials that it should become a reality. Thanks for the thoughtful comment!


Aceblogs profile image

Aceblogs 4 years ago from India

Great share but i tell you some facts , here in india one of the state govt has made studies till 8th standard absolutely free and also the fees for the colleges are very nominal which is for the biggest indian university - delhi university. Though private colleges still charge you golden dime


M. T. Dremer profile image

M. T. Dremer 4 years ago from United States Author

Aceblogs - Thanks for the info and the comment! I definitely think private colleges could exist alongside public ones. We have private schools for elementary, middle and high school that co-exist, so I would have no problem with that kind of model. But I don't necessarily think college should be a requirement. Otherwise we run into an extension of high school with the bullies who don't want to be there, and that would ruin the college experience.


Leslie Jo Barra profile image

Leslie Jo Barra 4 years ago

The cost of higher education is getting ridiculous. I lived in Barbados (a 3rd world country) a few years ago and that tiny nation manages to offer free university schooling to its citizens. I don't think it will ever be free here, taxpayers have enough on their plate and public schools are struggling to have basic supplies and to keep programs like music and art in the schools.


M. T. Dremer profile image

M. T. Dremer 4 years ago from United States Author

Leslie Jo Barra - It's true that tax payers have a lot on their plate, though if the breaks for big businesses and billionaires were reduced or cut entirely, we would have considerably more money to spend on things like education and healthcare. It's a tough subject that runs much deeper than the surface issues. Thanks for the comment!


mathira profile image

mathira 4 years ago from chennai

Education is the lifeline of youngsters and it can turn their life for better.The high fees and the loan accrued does play havoc in their life.The problem is the same all over the world.Good hub.


M. T. Dremer profile image

M. T. Dremer 4 years ago from United States Author

mathira - It's interesting to hear that this problem is happening elsewhere. I've often heard stories of countries that get college tuition right, but rarely do I hear about ones that are just as bad as ours. Probably because people don't like to shine light on the problem in general. Thanks for the insight and the comment!


E Dharsi profile image

E Dharsi 4 years ago

A very well written article, thank you for that. As a soon-to-be graduate in Canada, I can relate to your opinion of high fees. However, I believe that Universities are not the key to a successful future and need to be limited to those that truly need it in their future.

Due to the fact that university life (college life) is given such importance in the United States, everyone goes to university, when not all those prospective students need to. You can often find that alot of American students that have attended American Institutions to study, actually don't know where they're heading in terms of career choices.

Sorry, rambled a little. I think free universities is a bad idea, as I stated above, an increase in the amount of individuals with a university degree, makes it harder for others to get a job

All in all, superbly written. Thank you.


M. T. Dremer profile image

M. T. Dremer 4 years ago from United States Author

E Dharsi - You're right, college life isn't for everyone. I certainly don't think that college should be mandatory, I just want the process to be kinder to those who do wish to learn more. No one should be punished for wanting to further their education. Thanks for the comment!


E Dharsi profile image

E Dharsi 4 years ago

It was a pleasure to comment on a well written piece of work. It should be kinder indeed, I was thinking that myself as I was just applying to univerisities and was glancing at the tuition fees: whoa. I just feel that if we were to see universities become free, it would be incredibly hard to regulate it when some universities accept prospective students with grades that are needed for College not University.


purp-drag913 profile image

purp-drag913 4 years ago from West Michigan, USA.

I like the idea of college being, if not free, at least greatly reduced in order to be able to work and pay tuition at the same time. My sister went to college in the early 80's. She made enough money in the summers to not only pay her tuition, but with an on-campus job, her living expenses too. By 1985, (after she graduated,) prices started going through the roof. Today, it's practically out of the stratisphere, as you well know. I've had to quit, myself for personal, and financial reasons.

Shoot, I could go on and on, but I'm starting to feel like I'm whining. Once again, good hub.


M. T. Dremer profile image

M. T. Dremer 4 years ago from United States Author

E Dharsi - I do think that some level of test scores/grades should still play a role in acceptance to a university (even if it was free). It can be really challenging to jump right from high school to a 4-year program at a major school. This is why I also support the idea of community colleges. They're a great way to ease students into the college life. Thanks for the comment!

purp-drag913 - I was, like your sister, fortunate enough to pay for my college outright and leave without any student loans. However, I had a job that paid well (for a college student) and I had no social life, which meant I had a lot of money just sitting around. My wife wasn't so lucky and it was through her that I saw how loans can be sneaky, damaging and demoralizing to students who just want to learn. Hopefully you get a chance to go back and finish; thanks for the comment!


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

Good Hub. I understand and agree with your frustration. I currently teach at a private university (I could never have afforded to go here myself) and I watch with great concern as many of our students go deeper and deeper into debt.

It is a real crisis...and the "for-profit" Business model colleges are the worst. They are very expensive and what most of their incoming freshmen don;t know is that they have very "low graduation rates!"

So you end up deep in debt and with no degree. It is all but criminal!


M. T. Dremer profile image

M. T. Dremer 4 years ago from United States Author

phdast7 - There are definitely a few services that operate under the for profit model that would really be better without it. College is one of them, healthcare is another. It's just hard to spread something good, like education, when it's being treated like a luxury that only the wealthiest have the privilege to afford. I think that anyone who wants to learn should be allowed to, without having to ruin their future finances to do it. Thanks for the thoughtful comment!


RunningDeer profile image

RunningDeer 4 years ago from Iowa

Amen to this hub. I graduated last year and have been struggling to make ends meet with upwards of $50,000 in student loan debt. It is ridiculous to send kids off to school and cripple them financially for the rest of their life. The few who are lucky enough to not have to much as much should be grateful. I'm just a middle class citizen with two parents who love me, but couldn't help me with school much with four other siblings at home still. I basically had no help for school. I have friends who work two or three jobs just to make ends meet. Student loan debt is the highest debt in the country now, trumping credit card debt and mortgages. Something needs to change here.


M. T. Dremer profile image

M. T. Dremer 4 years ago from United States Author

RunningDeer - It's true, a lot of families that aren't necessarily poor, are still struggling with the cost of college. Some parents start a college fund early, but the parents who don't think of this shouldn't be punished. The decision to go to school should be the student's, not the bank's. Thanks for the comment!


msmmba profile image

msmmba 3 years ago from New Delhi

I'm happy to read and write comment on your topic. Education system now demands high course fee as result middle class family student unable to get chance to study. Government should think about that matter.


M. T. Dremer profile image

M. T. Dremer 3 years ago from United States Author

msmmba - I agree that this is a subject the government should focus on more in the immediate future. They say that the path to wealth and prosperity is through education, but right now it's kind of backwards; you have to be wealthy to get the education. I sincerely hope we see some progress within the next three years. Thank you for the comment!

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