I believe we need to return our government-run colleges and universities to being tuition-free, and when I say “return,” I mean it. A lot of people don’t know this, but 50-60 years ago, state-run colleges and universities didn’t charge tuition. It opened the door to college for millions and millions of Americans, but today that door is closing due to ever-increasing tuition costs. Since 1978, college tuition has increased at about six times the rate of inflation, which means that tuition today costs over 1200% more than it did 40 years ago.
There are many reasons for this, but none of them are a good reason for it.
This massive increase in costs is damaging our country in three major ways:
1) Most of our nation’s poorest residents can’t afford to go to college whether they are capable of doing well in higher education or not. This results in less upward mobility for our nation’s poor. Social mobility is a major key to any properly functioning society.
2) Most of the people who do end up going to college either are born to families who can afford to send them, or are strapped with massive student-loan debt. Those strapped with debt are less able to participate in the economy. Those born to fortunate families are representing a smaller and smaller slice of the American public as the middle class continues to be wiped out.
3) When furthering someone’s education is decided by their (or their parents’) finances, rather than their ability, we end up with less-able people in our country as a whole.
To understand the concept of why this hurts our country as a whole, think about it like this: If only 17% of the public can afford to become college-educated, what about the other 83%?
It’s easy to say, “Well, they don’t go to college. The nation needs ditch-diggers and maids, too.” While it’s true that we need people willing and able to do all kinds of jobs, what would’ve happened if Jonus Salk – the discoverer and creator of the world’s first Polio Vaccine – was digging ditches? His parents were poor Russian immigrants. If not for his schooling costing next to nothing, he wouldn’t have been able to go, and the Polio Vaccine would’ve come along much later, if at all.
Today, our world is still fighting to cure or prevent more diseases and ailments than one could possibly count, and we’re now faced with fighting climate change as well. Under these conditions, what good does it do us for only 17% of our people to be able to go to college? Just looking at the odds, we greatly increase our odds of defeating these threats to our society by making college equally available to everybody.
College should be based on individual ability, not income. Making public college tuition-free is not only the right thing to do for capable, impoverished individuals, but in the end, it will improve all of our lives, and it’ll make our country better able to compete in the global marketplace as well.