Debate: Should we make colleges tuition-free?

Round 1

Side 1: While I agree that the level of debt accumulated by students in higher education is drastically high, eliminating tuition does not necessarily mean that students will go through college debt-free. There are other costs to college that don’t fall under the category of tuition, such as room and board costs, fees for things like parking and the prices of books and other equipment. Would those also be free? Unlikely. Even in countries that have free tuition, these costs can be thousands of dollars since tuition is approximately one-fifth of the total cost of college. Free college may lessen students’ debt, but it is not the answer to curing it. Plus, making college free requires either higher taxes or redistribution of said taxes. The first option is unlikely to be popular among those who are struggling to make ends meet, which then requires a restructuring of the tax code. That’s not necessarily a problem either, but it has the potential to create a domino effect of change from one aspect of our economic system to the next. While in the end, it may be a better outcome, the period of change and the amount of work involved might not be outweighed by that positive outcome. And while I agree that redistributing our government’s budget to better balance social needs, what makes college more of a priority over better healthcare or infrastructure? Can we really portion the budget out to successfully manage all of that? What would have to give?

Side 2: There is no doubt that the current economy is in desperate need for a better-educated workforce. Although many states have implemented free education till high school, it is not enough to ensure the growth we expect the country to follow. In 2017, the total amount of student loan debt in the U.S. was found to be almost $1.5 trillion which is over 20 percent more than the nationwide credit card debt. This is also one of the primary reasons for the increase in dropout rates and lack of enrollment in graduate programs. Free college is not an unheard of concept. In fact, many European countries, including Germany and France, have free college tuition for the majority of courses, including STEM fields. Free college would level the playing field for those bright students in high school who fail to get a seat in the Ivy Leagues due to the financial constraints. While some might argue that providing free college will never be possible with the current budget of the country, I disagree. If the government cut a fraction of the current defense budget and started investing in the future of the country, the idea of free college will no longer seem like an Utopian world.

Round 2

Side 1: College without tuition may not be feasible, not only because it won’t necessarily solve student debt issues or because the tax situation is distributed disproportionately, but because of logistical issues within the colleges themselves. If colleges were free, more people would be able to attend and try to earn a degree. That as an isolated result is definitely a good thing, but other effects of this result would need plenty of preparation to resolve. The answer to who’s going to pay for college would be the taxpayers, but we would need to take into account all those extra people who would be attending. More students mean more dorms, more classrooms, more equipment and more teachers. All of these things require more money and thus more taxes. Again, if the budgets are handled well then this is not an issue, but planning how to rearrange that budget would be difficult if we use prediction models based on current situations. Plus, just because students may sign up for classes more does not mean that they are able to carry them out. Does this mean that they shouldn’t be granted some sort of chance? No. But this would mean higher drop-out rates, which may then cause some issues in their future. We may accidentally create an even larger bias against those who are not college graduates if it is assumed by the majority of society that college degrees are even easier to obtain than before.

Side 2: It is true that more enrollment will result in a higher demand for infrastructure for the colleges across the country. But the idea is to level the playing field for the best talent to rise without financial constraints, not to give out degrees to whoever shows up at a college campus. Colleges will not have to increase their enrollment seats, but will have to make a set of fair enrollment criteria. It is true that the competition to secure a college seat will increase but this will also ensure that the most talented students are given a chance. There are enough institutions in this country to accommodate students with different calibers, so by eliminating the tuition fee, we are removing one of the constraints that might stop a student from getting a college degree. Planning the budget to make this happen will not happen overnight but we can at least start with a small step by targeting a few institutions at a time and moving ahead from there. If only merit-based students enroll in college programs, we might see a reduction in dropouts as these students have what it takes to excel in their chosen field. There will be not by any more situations where a student was forced to drop out because they could not afford the fee.

Side 1 argued by Rebecca Barkdoll and Side 2 argued by Animesh Sarkar

*Note: This debate ran April 4