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Why College Should be Free
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.
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.
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.