As December rolled around, seniors were on the final lap as they submited their applications to the colleges of their choice. In the endless nervousness, they sent out the forms that will define the next four years of their lives.Even though it may seem a little hectic, it’s an exciting time. The allure of escaping the rigidity of high school for the liberty of these institutions is contagious. However, as they enter the gates of these distinct campuses, they won’t be simply students, but also customers.
Behind the honorable disguises of diplomas and alma maters, college has become a highly profitable business. Every single year, the boards of colleges throughout the nation hike up tuition prices. According to the Daily Beast, the price of college has increased by 1120 % since 1978. This has devastated students who spend the next 40 years paying for four years of their lives. The Economist reported that student debt is more than $1.2 trillion with seven million debtors in default. More often, a college loan that was mostly associated with opportunity has been reduced to a predatory financial instrument.
Presently, these loans combined with the inflated value of college are crushing people, not building them a better future. By struggling to make these regular payments, people are hindered from buying a house, sustaining a family, and earning a share of the American Dream in their future. The status quo is an economic disaster. However, we can get ourselves out of this hole. The solution is to make public higher education absolutely free.
Certainly, this radical approach may raise some eyebrows. Yet, dissenters neglect the obvious evidence of history. In the late 19th and early 20th century, as the majority of public universities were being built, tuition fees were practically non-existent. Of course, attending college was much rarer back then. Yet, this fact does not undermine the possibility of a truly free college experience. In economic realm, the price of higher education is determined by the factor of demand. A hundred years ago, the demand for a college education was fairly low, thus the price was fairly low. Presently, the demand is gargantuan, thus the price is gargantuan. Most individuals will justify this increased demand with the nature of the current economic system. The status quo presents a job market that has a dire need for college graduates. At least, that’s what we are taught. However, there is too much fiction in this “fact.”
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 27% of jobs in the US require at least an associate’s degree. Truly, the growing sectors of our economy are infrastructure, energy and manufacturing. These jobs need technical training, not degrees. Undeniably, the labor that our country needs should be coming out of vocational programs, not these expensive institutions. However, instead of fostering technical training, the federal government has adopted a policy with the unrealistic vision of everybody going to traditional, four-year college. The government has pervasively inflated demand for college by keeping low interest rates on student loans and subsidizing these institutions of higher learning. While this might seem honorable in the short term, in the long term, many of these students end up in dire straits because their government keeps pumping college graduates into an economy that simply doesn’t need them. Every year, thousands enter the work force optimistically, but eventually realize that their optimism was in vain. There are no jobs for them. With no employment, how can they pay for their burdening student debt?
The course that Washington is guiding this nation on makes no sense. It is attempting to produce a labor system incompatible with the rest of the world. For example, Germany, the economic powerhouse of Europe, has a population where only 28% carry a bachelor’s degree or higher. This nation’s success can be attributed to programs that encourage vocational education and set realistic standards for college attendance. Prioritizing technical training creates a system where industry can grow. With a skilled pool of workers, companies have the necessary resource to forge strong businesses that have lasting global impacts.
Perhaps, there is a reason why BMW is thriving and why General Motors seems to be always heading towards bankruptcy. The composition of a labor system can be the difference between success and failure.
Our government needs to stop the predatory loans for college and start investing in vocational education. This combined recipe will not only rebalance our distorted labor system, but also effectively lower the pernicious demand on higher education. As any AP Economics student would be able to tell you, if you lower the demand for college, then you also make it cheaper. However, this doesn’t make college free.
How much does going to public university cost the entire nation? Bob Samuels from the University of California-Los Angeles formulated an intriguing report addressing this issue.
“In 2009-10, the average cost of tuition, room and board for undergraduates at public four-year institutions was $14,870, and $7,629 for two-year public college. When you multiply the number of students in each segment by the average total cost, it amounts to a price tag of $127 billion for free public higher ed,” Samuels said.
Believe it or not, this isn’t a lot of money. By decreasing demand, it would be an even smaller amount. In context, the government already pays $107.6 billion on student loans. Why not just pay for these kids to have a free education? Of course, some taxes would probably have to be increased or some department’s budget would have to be decreased. The amount of money to finance free college for Americans wanting to enter the degree-requiring side of the labor pool is only 22.96% of the budget of the Department of Defense. We can definitely finance this venture.
If our government took on this financial responsibility, this nation will be in a vastly different situation. No longer will people be held back by the fear of inflated college prices, nor will they have to mar their futures with bickering debt. Instead, individuals will be able to begin their professional lives with a clean slate.
For those with doubts, take a trip to Denmark, Ecuador, Estonia, Fiji, Finland, France, Germany, Iran, Russia, Sweden or Turkey. Even Somalia, a nation plagued by poverty and piracy, is able to provide free college to its people. Honestly, its embarrassing that the global hegemon can’t match up to the level of a third world country. The reality is that there is no excuse for unfree higher education.
The American Dream has many interpretations. For me, this dream consists of stepping into the work force with a free diploma, instead of facing your future with a pricey receipt