In a world where blue-collar jobs are considered unappealing by many, an increasing amount of individuals have begun to choose to attend college in the hopes of achieving prestigious positions in the white-collar industry. Unfortunately, however, one’s decision to further their education at post-secondary school can have one rather drastic unforeseen consequence: thousands of dollars’ worth of debt. As a result of this growing “epidemic” plaguing college students around the nation, rallying cries for free higher education have begun to spring up throughout the country. But, for as many logical, thought-out arguments that exist in support of free college, there are just as many against it. In fact, as highlighted in Dissent Magazine‘s special issue titled “Arguments on the Left,” in which three different authors share their differing viewpoints regarding free higher education, this debate is anything but simple and is more complex than individuals would both hope and imagine. As a result, one can only conclude that the idea of free college, while idealistic and tempting, is not completely beneficial nor easily achieved, especially after taking these three articles and their varying arguments into consideration.
The first of the three articles, Tressie McMillan Cottom’s “Why Free College is Necessary,” takes a die-hard stance on the supportive side of the free college debate. Believing that higher education should be free regardless of what it can and cannot achieve, Cottom preaches the words and ideas that every college student that has ever faced debt wants to hear. However, while Cottom’s argument surely makes sense from the humanitarian side of things, it fails to delve into where the funds are going to come from. Logically speaking, funds from either the state or government that would help students attend college for free would come from the taxpayers’ own wallets. In a country that is already in a large amount of debt, with public institutions and services often taking the brunt of cutbacks, increasing the amount taxpayers have to contribute in order to provide students with a free college education shouldn’t necessarily be a top priority. Additionally, Cottom states, “An educational justice policy must include institutions of higher education but cannot only include institutions of higher education” (Cottom). Unfortunately, this adds even more burden to an already overwhelming financial undertaking. According to this logic, this notion of free education must expand beyond the boundaries of college and into the realm of trade schools as well, which only increases the cost that cannot easily be paid. Furthermore, Cottom also points out that, “â€¦free college would likely benefit only an outlying group of students who are currently shut out of higher education because of cost” (Cottom). While I wholeheartedly believe that everyone who wants to learn should, regardless of their economic standing, looking at the situation from this point of view can cause one to question the validity of the whole endeavor. That is, what way does it make sense to undertake such a huge financial burden if free college won’t necessarily benefit everyone?
Much like Cottom’s argument, Mike Konczal’s article titled, “Generation Debt,” also approaches the topic of free higher education from a rather positive stance. Konczal proclaims that education is a right that every human should have access to, and insists that the government be the ones responsible for providing the service. However, instead of insinuating that higher education be provided for free, Konczal points out that part of the root of the problem regarding student debt in particular is the fact that there has been large-scale disinvestment from and privatization of post-secondary education. Arguing that, “Higher educationâ€¦shouldn’t be left to a handful of private schools, where administrators pursue their own objectives independent of public need, or to the market, which is only interested in how much it can profit at any given time” (Konczal), he exposes the fact that colleges and universities around the nation are run more like businesses than anything else. In doing this, students are placed at a disadvantage because they are merely pawns, often attending schools that exist not for the betterment of our nation’s citizens, but to exploit as much money as possible from the unsuspecting and undeserving. Only worsening the situation is the fact that, “â€¦public disinvestment in the states has been paired with generous tax cuts for rich individuals and corporations” (Konczal). Combined with the money-making machine that is higher education, the fact that states have chosen to side with the rich and powerful instead of standing with their own constituents only ensures that the rich will get richer and the poor, poorer. Furthermore, as stated by Konczal, “National conversations on higher education are often dominated by a few elite schools, so they ignore the promise of mobility offered by the state system” (Konczal). As a result of this, community college is often frowned upon and deemed obscure, despite the fact that attending a two year school can save students thousands of dollars. In addition to falling into the trap of capitalist-oriented colleges, many students also choose not to attend community college simply because it is not prestigious, thus further sentencing themselves into debt.
The final article, Matt Bruenig’s “The Case against Free College,” takes a rather different approach than the previous two articles when it comes to the free college debate. Overall, Bruenig argues that students already receive various forms of assistance for college in the form of grants, loans, and subsidies, which, in his opinion, is already giving more than what students should expect. In addition to this, Bruenig also articulates that providing even more than what is currently offered, or even making college free, would simply bring more inequality than social justice. Specifically, this is due to the fact that, “â€¦only around 20 percent of children from the poorest 2 percent of families in the country attend college. For the richest 2 percent of families, the same number is around 90 percent” (Bruenig). So, providing a free college education to current college students would only continue to put those who are lower in the economic ranks at a disadvantage. Much like how Tressie McMillan Cottom admitted that free college would only benefit those who are currently excluded from higher education due to their economic standing, providing a free college education would only keep more money in the pockets of the rich. As a result, Bruenig states that, “â€¦making college free for everyone would almost certainly mean giving far more money to students from richer families than from poorer ones” (Bruenig). Sure, providing free college education would give deprived students an opportunity to continue their education, but would do little in the long run when it comes to trying to reach a more egalitarian society. Once again, what are the benefits of free college education if it has the potential to only worsen the inequalities within American society and benefits only a small percentage of individuals?
As a current college student, I could only hope and dream that a plan may arise in the near future that would eliminate or drastically cut college expenses, namely tuition. However, after reviewing the three articles in Dissent Magazine‘s special issue titled “Arguments on the Left,” it has become clear that free college is not as beneficial or easily obtained as one would hope. While this notion of free college is tempting to say the least, it is certainly not feasible without a redesigned tax system, complete overhaul of higher education institutions and their intentions, and careful consideration regarding just who would be benefitting the most from free higher education. As it currently stands, free college will only benefit a small percentage of individuals, failing to address the capitalist nature of universities nationwide, while also acting as yet another way for the rich to keep hold of their wealth. However, it also must be stated that we must not give up hope and abandon the idea altogether. Although the cons currently outweigh the pros, there will one day be a way to implement a free college education system that benefits everyone without continuing to make the rich richer. As a nation, we must work towards that day together, implementing a foolproof plan to become a more egalitarian society without continuing to put thousands of young individuals into debt with the help of our current college system.
Bruenig, Matt. “The Case against Free College.” Dissent Magazine, Fall 2015, dissentmagazine.org/article/matt-bruenig-left-case-against-free-college. Accessed 28 Feb. 2017.
Cottom, Tressie McMillan. “Why Free College is Necessary.” Dissent Magazine, Fall 2015, dissentmagazine.org/article/tressie-mcmillan-cottom-why-free-college-necessary. Accessed 28 Feb. 2017.
Konczal, Mike. “Generation Debt.” Dissent Magazine, Fall 2015, dissentmagazine.org/article/mike-konczal-generation-debt-free-college-argument. Accessed 28 Feb. 2017.