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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Light

Free College: An Unnecessary Expense

Let's face it. College in the US is wildly expensive, and it’s understandable that one would seek other ways to fund it. However - is completely free college across the nation really the right way to go?

There is no such thing as “free lunch.”

Whether college is paid for directly or not, someone has to pay for it. This means the money will be coming from taxpayers. If the taxpayers' kids already went to college, why should they carry the burden of paying for college again when there was no government support during the time they paid for tuition? Essentially, there is no free lunch. Someone will be forced to foot the bill.

Jennifer E Walsh, a professor of Political Sciences, explained that in 2015, California charged taxpayers $8,800 per student to cover the cost of education at a California State University campus and charged students an additional $5,472 in tuition fees.

According to the National Association of State Budget Officer Expenditure Report, 15% of taxpayer money goes to higher education, amounting to some $167 BILLION. With already spending 41% of state funds on education itself, increasing the costs needed for Community and Technical College will financially run them into the ground.

If income taxes were raised in order to pay for this nationwide project to provide free tuition to all of its citizens, the impact would be drastic. Due to having to pay for a massive project to get people free community college, the government would be forced to raise taxes across the board. Not only will this end up harming the taxpayers, but it will also harm the economic growth and activity of states as well.

There is a hugely negative relationship between income tax rates and the growth of income. Zero state income tax states like Texas and Florida always tend to outperform high-income tax states like New Jersey, California, and New York. Realistically, taxpayers will bear the cost of this program, either directly through increased federal taxes, or by losing out on other potentially beneficial uses of these federal funds.

Pell Grants

First, what are Pell Grants? It’s a subsidy the U.S. federal government provides for students who need it to pay for college. Federal Pell Grants are limited to students with financial need, who have not earned their first bachelor's degree, or who are enrolled in certain post-baccalaureate programs, through participating institutions.

The total amount of aid that undergraduate and graduate students received in 2017-18 from all grants, loans, tax credits, and work-study is 241.3 billion dollars. Currently, the average award is about $4,000 per student. Students are able to receive pell money for 12 semesters — or the equivalent of about six years. This can relieve students of desperately working jobs in order to pay off tuition and be able to thrive in school.

These federally funded grants help about 5.4 million full-time and part-time college and vocational school students nationally. So those who can’t afford college and would like to continue on to higher education are often awarded pell grants, which would be a better solution.

In this way, Pell Grants only go to those who have a financial need for it, instead of paying for free college for everyone, including those who are already wealthy and don’t need help paying for college.

High Community College Dropout Rate

Because community college tuition will be paid for, it will actually lead to high community college dropout rates. Already, we see that according to the National Student Clearinghouse center reveals that 47% of community college enrollees drop out of college. Not having to pay for college loosens the sense of commitment for that school you would feel if you WERE paying.

According to the National Review, while free community college for all programs promises to increase the number of college graduates for relatively little cost, national data reveal it to be a poor strategy. According to a recent study by Indiana University, only 30% of community college students complete their two-year program, and only 7.7% of those students completed a bachelor’s degree at a four-year institution.

Even provided Pell Grants and money, students still currently drop out at an alarming rate. If they’re being provided money and dropping out now, then why should we foot the bill for their entire tuition, only to see them drop out again? (Ex. Arkansas Baptist, students who came from low-income families received Pell Grants and six years later, almost none of those students had graduated or received any sort of degree) In all, only half of U.S. students at four-year universities and colleges who got Pell Grants in 2011 graduated within six years, an analysis of this data by Seton Hall University assistant professor of education Robert Kelchen shows. Other research shows that completion rates fall the fewer students pay towards the cost, hinting that free tuition might raise already scandalously high dropout rates.

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