Free Tuition at What Cost?
by Christy Walters and Michelle Boring
College is expensive. We, as a college demographic, already know that. Tuition is high, housing is expensive, and textbook prices are just ridiculous.
President Obama wants to institute a government program dubbed “America’s College Promise,” which will make two years of community-college tuition free for full- and part-time students who maintain a 2.5 grade point average. The credits would have to go towards a four-year degree or result in a two-year professional certification.
In theory, this sounds like a good idea.
In practice, it may not go as planned.
Free tuition is not enough to entice people to go to school or to go back to school.
Public high schools are free, yet students still drop out. Some people go to college and end up dropping out as well, and not just because of the cost.
Plenty of factors, aside from financial burden, play into why students drop out of school. Boredom, difficulty with classes, becoming a parent, illness, or getting a new job with more hours could all account for student dropouts.
Tuition, whether it is expensive, affordable, or free, is only one part of the problem. There are many things wrong with the higher-education system in our country. Maybe the biggest problem is that, in the workforce, associate’s degrees are no longer enough, as far as qualifications go. For that reason alone, I can see why President Obama would suggest a plan like this. Two years of free schooling is supposed to lessen the financial burden and encourage students to tackle the last two years on their own.
On the surface the idea sounds enticing to people our age, who are spending thousands of dollars to attend a branch campus, and that isn’t even factoring in our housing fees, gas money, or books.
However, I will say I’m not completely sold on this idea yet. It would benefit only community colleges in the beginning, and schools like Pitt-Greensburg could be at a disadvantage if an act like this is passed. Who would come here for their freshman and sophomore years if they could go to Westmoreland County Community College for free for two years and then transfer to Pitt-Oakland? Not to mention, the taxpayers will be footing the bill for this project, estimated at around 60-billion dollars. I don’t know about anyone else, but I am not too thrilled about the idea of having to pay back my own loans while simultaneously paying for other people to go to school for free.
Our citizens are one of our country’s most valuable resources because what are we without our people? I applaud Obama for realizing people need to be educated to not only fix the income inequality in the U.S. but also continue our country’s prospering as a whole.
Would this program benefit a lot of students? Absolutely, but at what cost?
My first concern with the program is that our government, already trillions of dollars in debt, would foot the bill. How much money would community colleges across the nation need to keep their doors open? I’m not saying that it’s not a good investment. I just think there are some numbers to weigh, especially from a tax perspective.
My next issue is that the program would cover only tuition costs. Programs like this make it seem like tuition is the only thing that matters when going to college. What about textbooks? What about a way to get to and from campus? What about living expenses like food or a place to sleep? There are other expenses that go into college, and government officials who propose programs often don’t realize that.
Students often go to community college before heading to a four-year college. Some of the credits often don’t transfer, and then the student ends up paying even more money in loans to pay for the classes they need to graduate. Would colleges and universities make it even more difficult to transfer these credits to yank more money out of students?
Obama said the program would make tuition free if “you’re willing to work for it.” How is a 2.5—a C average—working for it? Can you hear students walking down the hallway shouting “C’s get degrees” yet? If students are to get tuition for free, then the grade point average requirements should be at least a 3.0. As a country, we should strive to have our people work harder and be above average.
Another hurdle with the program is that higher education starts in middle school and high school. The program is supposed to entice low-income students to go to community college. Often, the problem isn’t just affording college. Instead, it’s that these students didn’t have high enough test scores to even get into colleges. Perhaps investing in our public schools is needed too?
My last concern is that this program doesn’t help college students that are taking multiple loans out to pay for their programs, graduating, and then still living at home with their parents and working a shitty retail job because they can’t find a major-related job. Where is the tuition assistance for them? How about lowering the tuition? How about putting a cap on it? How about we stop making money off students and start investing in them?
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