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The United States cannot afford free education

Illustration by: Maria Tahir | Staff Illustrator

President Barack Obama drafted America’s College Promise, the plan to ensure free community college to American students in participating states. Former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, and current democratic nomine, Hillary Clinton have similar proposals to ensure free higher education to American students. The idea of free tuition, while noble, is simply too good to be true.

President Obama said in 2015 that he would like to see “the first two years of community college free, for everybody who is willing to work for it.” According to his draft, a student would need a minimum of a 2.5 grade point average, and be enrolled “at least half-time.”

America’s College Promise would only take place in states willing to accept it. The federal government would pay for the majority of the costs, leaving the rest of the student’s tuition to the state. Tuition would not be free after all; just free to the student.

Under Clinton and Sanders’ plan, all community colleges would be free to attend, any student of a family making less than $125,000 annually would receive free tuition to public universities within their state and a “$25 billion fund will support historically black colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions, and other minority-serving institutions” according to Clinton’s campaign site.

Should Clinton or Obama’s initiatives ever come to fruition, the consequences could severely outweigh the benefits. According to CNN, the Clinton option would cost the United States $350 billion over 10 years at least. Obama’s plan for just free community college could cost approximately $60 billion over 10 years—cheaper option, however still not affordable.

Free college education does exist. It exists in a handful of countries across the globe such as Germany, France and Sweden. In addition to providing free college, these countries also charge high federal tax rates in comparison to the U.S. Tax rates are near 50 percent in those countries whereas the U.S. has a 31.5 percent rate for the average citizen. These countries also have far fewer students attending school.

The U.S. would have to increase taxes to cover the cost. The money has to come from somewhere, additionally participation states could raise their taxes to cover their part of the bill.

Benefits to these plans include more accessible education, the virtual elimination on FAFSA and less student debt. Colleges would also have to refrain from raising tuition frequently, as the state would pick up the bill.

Many people support Obama’s more conservative option over free college entirely. However, the country cannot afford either. Supporters of either bill should consider what would happen to the quality of higher education should it become free. Many professors teach at community colleges part time to make additional cash—what would happen to their paychecks should college suddenly become cheap?

Cheap professors can mean cheap education; this might not be the case, but it is a struggle many lower level public schools have. Supply and demand is also a contributing factor. If most people go to college, like most people go to high school, what would be the point? Where is a graduate’s competitive edge going to come from? Sure, more people would become educated, however that education might not be as effective.

If America wants a more educated citizen population, it should consider allowing high school students more control over what they have access to.

Maybe the next president should consider quality over quantity when it comes to education.

-Katie Burrell is a mass communications sophomore


  1. “What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM”,or EDUCATION, “should not be highly rated.” Thomas Paine

    Free college = welfare college. This country doesn’t need another welfare program.

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