Monday, January 25, 2016

The Problem with Free College Tuition

College training has long since become a necessity in our society, much to the joy of those involved in the business of providing post-secondary education financing, but if some politicians and special interest groups have their way, college could become free for all Americans graduating high school in the coming years. The arguments for and against free college tuition line up with various political agendas right along the lines you would expect them to, and it’s typically the same pundits saying the same stuff you hear all the time.

  There’s a backlash growing against the idea of college being a necessity at all. With tuition costs skyrocketing and graduates having to take out more and more loan debt to get through college, it’s understandable that some high school seniors want another option. This, unfortunately, is where some people get a tad confused. After all, what is college? To many of us, it’s the traditional “Animal House” version of college, but frankly, that’s not the only wat to go these days. With the demise of the apprenticeship system, trade and technical schools had to pick up the slack, and since they are small, they typically aren’t the sort of schools that warrant state benefits. The truth of the matter, though, is that workers in the right blue collar fields can make really good livings without traditional college. A component of a free college tuition system could easily make it possible to bring back the skilled labor to our workforce that has leached out in the last forty years.

So why not free college? The idea of free college tuition is one that isn’t new in society- it’s been thrown around as an idea for some time, actually. Numerous countries throughout the world today give their students free college educations, and we’re not talking about third world nations, either, giving high school students a free pass to a cut-rate college. Many support students through good programs leading to advanced degrees upon graduation. That in itself makes it seem that free tuition would work out great, wouldn’t it? Well, that’s there, and this is America, and the talking heads would just plain spin if such a thing were to actually come to pass on our shores.

A lack of understanding for what free tuition could mean stands as perhaps the greatest barrier to its implementation. In today’s world, a bachelor’s degree is essentially equivalent to a high school diploma. An associate’s degree is analogous to what a GED was twenty years ago. It goes without question that these degrees now come with a lower standard of living. A program that supports free tuition would open up avenues in the trades that have until very recently gone unappreciated by most high school seniors. It could be used toward rebuilding our disintegrating blue collar labor force through advanced training programs in specialized equipment, or even used as an incentive to bring back the time-honored tradition of apprenticeship. Machining, Carpentry, Electrical work, telecommunications, forestry, and a host of other careers could all see a wellspring of new talent if we are brave enough to actually train those new hires.

If you allow for the ability of such a program to be used flexibly, then the boost to the economy would be two-fold. For one, the lack of outrageous student debt would let new families have more disposable income that can be used toward housing and other living expenses. The other boost to the economy might just come in giving students the opportunity to start their own small businesses, which in turn could allow for yet more hiring opportunities for other new graduates. 

The biggest problem with free college tuition (or trade school tuition, whichever you prefer) is simply that we have been conditioned to believe the very worst of it- that it’s yet another useless, expensive government program that people will waste and take advantage of. Essentially, it’s biggest problem is the talking heads planting ideas in the electorate that simply don’t mesh with the potential benefits that could come of such a program.

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