Will Free College Tuition Destroy the US Economy?
In discussions centered on higher education in the United States, the total cost of attendance is one of the most nail-biting topics. Students feel the burden of their education long after graduation, many for decades. The mental image of a “sixty year old, soon-to-be retired, hard working American still paying off student loans” floods both media outlets and the political arena alike. This image pulls at the emotions of those paying off loans, and parents sending their children away to college. It encourages both groups to become angry and join forces in supporting any initiative that would reduce the burden. The latest “call to action” surrounding higher education is the notion of free college tuition. While a solid idea in theory, in reality, this plan would completely destroy one of our nation’s oldest and most beloved industries.
Cost to Taxpayers
Politicians citing free college tuition as the solution quote countries like Germany as a model of success. It’s true that Germany does offer free tuition. What is not stated, is that payroll tax rates imposed on its citizens soars at a rate of 33%. Combine that with a sales tax on goods purchased of nearly 19% and it quickly becomes clear how Germany can offer free education. If the taxes on all American paychecks doubled or tripled, the economic impact to this nation that relies on consumer spending to effectively operate, would be devastating.
Many of our nation’s community colleges already offer free college tuition to those who qualify. It might be sold as “pell grant eligible”, but those pell grants offer enough funding to cover tuition and books. And in most cases, require no repayment. Despite tuition being free for these students, only 1/3 will graduate. Increasing tax rates to cover the cost of this plan should provide a rate of return far beyond the current graduation rate of .33. This is not simply a problem of access or cost, this is a deeper problem. One that begins with K-12 and preparation of our youth to be successful in a college environment. Making all college free will not solve these issues.
There are ways to change higher education in a significant way that could benefit both the student and the school. Performance based funding, if done well, could bring accountability to both parties. Schools are encouraged to increase the quality of the education and employment viability of their graduates, and students, in order to gain appropriate funding must meet certain criteria and be accountable for their part in the process. An expansion of work study programs within institutions can greatly offset tuition costs, and with the overabundance of staff at most colleges and universities, student workers provide an institutional cost savings, and a tuition reduction for the student. Change is critical for this industry, but it has to made sense, not tank the American economy, and produce results that better the lives of our citizens.