Ending the student debt crisis begins with free four-year college for all students despite socioeconomic backgrounds.
By Bruna Meister
For most high school seniors, college means independence and the beginning of adulthood. Those of influence in our lives cement the idea that those college years spent in a tiny dorm and eating cafeteria food 24/7 will be the best of our lives (which is absolutely terrifying), as well as determine the paths that we will take later in life. Many like to think that the college that you go to won’t matter in the end, but really, the school we choose has a much more substantial effect than we are comfortable with. College is where people find their lifelong friends, future employers, possible spouses, themselves, and ultimately crippling debt.
An analysis conducted by the American Council on Education discovered a considerable drop in the percentage of low income high school students enrolling in a four year college. However, this trend does not only pertain to low income candidates; it has affected every income group since 2008, with the overall enrollment rate dropping from 68.6% to 65.9% in 2013. Yet, perhaps more troubling is the fact that as high school graduation rates have been continuously increasing, however employment opportunities that only require a high school diploma are growing rare. In 2018 it is expected by employers that their employees have a higher education, so why are we experiencing such a significant drop?
For most of our nation’s past, university has been more affordable and accessible to the public through low tuition rates and financial aid that covered a generous portion of the total cost. According to the College Board, the average cost of a college education, including tuition and fees, for the 2017-2018 school year was $25,620. Since 1978, the cost of attending a four year college has increased by an incredibly depressing number: 1,122 percent. Due to this exponential growth in the cost of education, our education system is moving farther and farther away from its initial purpose–to serve the American people. Instead, our education system is contributing to the possibility that student debt loans will become to become the largest form of personal debt in America, exceeding credit card debt and auto loans. Just last year, $1.3 trillion was owed in student debt by 38 million Americans.
It’s no mystery why more high school graduates are opting out of college. Before, a college degree meant a brighter future and economic stability, but now student loan debts accompanied by a certificate increases inequality and makes it incredibly difficult for low-income graduates to buy a home, start a family or a business.
The solution seems simple: free college. However, it’s important to recognize that in this nation free never means free.
Currently, anybody that earns a paycheck helps pay for our local high schools and kindergartens, regardless of if they choose to send our kids to them. Additionally, all parents have the option of choosing public schools, even if they can afford private institutions. Free primary and secondary schooling strengthens our democracy and, most importantly, is critical for our children’s health and future. Providing an education for our kids is one of our community’s most important responsibilities, and it’s a right that every one of us benefits from. So why not extend public schooling to higher education as well?
Some might object that average Americans should not have to pay for students that hold no relation to them or that are from wealthy families to go to school. Certain things should be guaranteed to all Americans, non-dependent on their socioeconomic backgrounds. It’s not a coincidence that some of the most important social programs in our government’s history have applied to all citizens– not just to those struggling to make ends meet.
Universal programs are usually stronger and more stable over the long term, as well as less frequently targeted by budget cuts or partisan attacks. Public schools have stood the test of time—let’s make sure public colleges and universities do too.
The United States has long been committed to educating all its people, not only its elites. This nation is also one of the wealthiest in the history of the world, we can afford to make college an option for every American family.
In order to make college accessible to the American public again we must first address the student loan debt crisis. Eliminating the student debt crisis is the first step, not the last. Once we eradicate the student loan barrier to going to college, our focus needs to be on reevaluating how we view higher education. College should not only be debt free, but free–period.