Are Free Colleges Really Free?

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When higher education comes up, politicians discuss the cost of attendance — and how they intend to reduce it. In some cases, they have even proposed making college accessible.

But what exactly does “free college” imply?

There is no single answer. “Free college” refers to policies, programs, and proposals dealing with tuition-free higher education. The majority apply to public colleges and universities, with many focusing specifically on community colleges. Debt-free college, which goes beyond tuition-free by covering other costs of attendance such as books and living expenses, is also gaining popularity.

Regardless of their differences, the proposed solutions portray a progression to start making college more cost-effective for parents and students. Tuition and fees at public four-year colleges have increased by 35% in the last decade and 23% at public two-year colleges. In the United States, nearly $1.5 trillion in student loan debt is held by more than 43 million borrowers. With this public debt, young people do not achieve economic freedom until many years out of college.

College has become a more prevalent milestone for youngsters and their families, even as it is becoming an increasing financial strain for them. High school is no longer sufficient to prepare following generations for future jobs; in fact, the most popular path to the middle-class list is to receive at least some college courses.

On the pros of Free College, Shaun Connell, an entrepreneur, said: “First, it will reduce our students’ debt. Without the weight of student loan debt, I think more college graduates might buy houses rather than rent apartments”.

He added, “I have seen many students feeling pressured to take specific majors; a free college education will allow more freedom to choose a major they enjoy”.

As university education became the only boarding pass to the middle class, there has been conversations surrounding making it more affordable for more Americans. The amount of higher education required is the difference between plans proposed by Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator Bernie Sanders, and Mayor Pete Buttigieg, which address four years of tuition at community universities, and those suggested by President Joe Biden and Senator Amy Klobuchar, which only style in order tuition years at state universities.

Whatever plan is chosen, the reality is that “free college” is not truly free. Tutoring and other expenditures for students and their families may be reduced, but ratepayers will be on the leash for more significant educational costs.

Tax receipts would be transmitted from non-college students to those who do, mainly from older and lower-income individuals to younger and higher-income individuals. There are claims that the plan accounts for this transfer by limiting students’ suitability for discounted or free tuition to low- and moderate-income students. Others do not set income limits for qualifications for free education, even though they claim their proposals would be paid for with taxes on the wealthiest Americans.

More information on the many programs will be required when taxpayers have a stake in higher education to ensure transparency and enable the government to hold colleges and universities held to account for student achievement. The Obama and Trump presidencies made progress toward transparency by releasing this kind of information through the College Scorecard. 

Still, the present admin has taken a step back with regard to accountability. Despite all of the talk about free college, few applicants have spoken out about the significant differences in students’ accountability and openness. And thus, it’s difficult to envision a future with free college but no additional disclosure or transparency indicators.

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