Free Education: The Wrong Answer to the Wrong Question

One of the major focal points among young voters in the presidential elections is the rising cost of higher education, and why not? Tuition rates, along with the cost of living, are steadily climbing, meaning decades of debt loom over students and alumni of state universities. Naturally, the collegiate constituency is seeking free tuition for public colleges and universities, one of the factors that contributed to the popularity of the Sanders campaign. This demand has led the Clinton campaign to propose a no-tuition plan for in-state students of $125,000 or less annual income homes.

The idea of free college is great. Theoretically, it would boost enrollment, retention and graduation rates, putting more enlightened minds into the workforce. However, the problem with the “free college for all” plan is its feasibility and execution, things that are often, and possibly intentionally, overlooked by both presidential candidates and voters alike. Who exactly covers a roughly $70 billion annual bill? What cuts to the national budget must be made in accommodation? What about the question rarely asked in this situation: why is tuition so damn expensive in the first place? Obviously, there must be some justification for the $965.10 price tag attached the short, online course I took over the first half of the summer session. Year after year, tuition rates rise, pretty much without question.

Tuition problems exist because most people view universities and colleges as merely institutional learning facilities and not the businesses that they are. There is too much focus on schools’ posted tuition rates and not enough focus on where the money is being spent. If a federal budget paid for the tuition of an entire student body, how much of that money would be spent on educating each student?

Rather than advertise a seemingly arbitrary number for tuition rates, colleges should advertise what percentages of tuition go into teaching the individual student, or the income families need in order to afford a four-year plan. Look around college campuses. Money is spent all around in an effort to attract more students and give the perception that their school is the ideal location. This practice is a given with any campus. Rock climbing walls, lawn maintenance and sculptures, all come at a cost to the student, sometimes in the most inefficient manner.

Efficiency is something that may take a larger hit if public options are subsidized. Despite what most may think, colleges are in competition with one another to provide the most effective services to students in order to attract higher enrollment rates. A free public option eliminates the need for competition among public colleges, making them less likely to want to better the student experience. This is something that is not generally considered on either end of the political spectrum.

The final issue is that a large percentage of students are graduating with no real understanding of how much their education has cost them or even how much debt they have accrued. If the average student wants free higher education, they should at least know how much they are currently spending and where their money is going. How much is the individual Bobcat spending on a four-year plan? Check out your account summary in MyInfo, the answer may surprise you. After four years attending MSU, living off-campus, I have racked up $73,172.62 in charges. How about you?