College Should Be Free

Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that college must be free. Being myself enrolled in a college where I watch my tuition rocket ever skyward each year, I to was taken aback by this idea. College should be free? What is this, some sort of wing-nut radical utopian pipe dream? Please people, this is not Scandinavia.

Then I realized that this idea is no more radical than the assertion in the 1850s that elementary school should be free to everyone, or half a century later when reformers said that high school should not only be a luxury for the rich. America has a long history of fighting for publicly funded schooling against many who wanted to keep it private.

With each new age of American society it became clear that publicly funded education was an absolute necessity. First elementary, then high school, and now a college education are an absolute must to function in the American economy. For young people entering the market today, wages have fallen in every category since 1970, for people who have schooling less than a BA. Even for most people with a BA wages have only slightly risen or remained the same as their 1970 levels. We young people will be the first generation to end up less well off then our parents’ generation. Today a college education is as much a necessity as is clean drinking water.

In every discussion of falling wages, outsourcing, and immigrant labor the conclusion always seems to be that America has to build a modern workforce prepared to take on the task of a modern economy. The only way for this to truly happen is for college to be free. Moving from a system of dept based financial aid back to providing federal academic grant is a good short-term solution, and decent first step. It is also true that our K-12 schooling systems are riddled with problems, that some might say need to be addressed first. But we cannot get bogged down in fighting for small change; we must set our sights higher than simply tackling imbecilic legislation like No Child Left Behind.

What this nation needs to succeed is a publicly funded Higher Education, anything short of that will not cut it in the long term. In the face of a faltering economy one might nervously ask where this sort of money will come from, but there is no better time. When there are not jobs to be had people go back to school, retrain, and restart. This is not to say that where should not be private universities, but if College is a necessity, it should not be something that you have to afford. We do not need to make college affordable, we need to make it available.