• Spring 2020 Topic

    "Resolved: Public colleges and universities in developed nations should be tuition free."

  • Topic Brief

    As the world’s economies grows more and more advanced, a college education is seen as necessary to provide access to good jobs and to economic and social advancement. College provides important skills to help people succeed in their careers after graduation. It also provides a valuable signal to employers that their candidate is qualified for high-skill work. Many jobs that do not require a college education are disappearing because of automation and competition, threatening the livelihoods of many workers. Worse, those who are already rich are most able to access a college education, particularly in the United States of America, where college is very expensive, even at state-sponsored public universities. Many people argue that the system of university education must be reformed. Some argue that making access to college tuition-free will provide immense benefits to individuals and societies. Others argue that a university education is overrated and that increasing investments in specific trades and skills is a better use of resources.


    Proponents of tuition-free college argue that removing the cost of tuition will open a university-level education to everyone, allowing people regardless of background and wealth access to the life-changing opportunity. Many developed countries around the world have tuition-free, or very low cost college already. Many candidates running for President of the United States, particularly Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, have announced their support for this kind of policy. Public colleges and universities, they argue, should be free for all citizens of a country because putting more people through higher education will help them be successful, will provide economic benefits to the whole country, and will help decrease economic and social inequality. Proponents of free college claim that, though such a program will be expensive, the long-term economic benefits are enormous. Free college will increase the number of highly-skilled and well-educated people into the economy. These highly-skilled workers will be better able to work on the complicated jobs of the future, thus helping the economy grow. More educated people also make better citizens who can help the country grow stronger.


    There are, however, strong opponents of tuition-free college as well. In some developed countries, like the United Kingdom and France, there have been movements to increase the cost of higher education for some or all students. In 1998, England ended its program of tuition-free college. The government believed that free college decreased the quality of education for each student because it created a situation of over-enrollment in which universities could not provide a good education for their students. Further, studies showed that the wealthiest families benefited the most from tuition-free college. The government argued that charging tuition to students from wealthy families would allow for investments increasing the quality of education for all students. For this and other reasons, the universal program of free college access was ended.


    Similar arguments are being made now by those who oppose tuition-free college in developed countries around the world. Opponents of tuition-free college argue that the program would be costly and ineffective, and that there are other, better programs which will achieve similar outcomes. These opponents argue that a universal program of tuition-free college is regressive, benefiting the rich more than the poor. They argue that more targeted relief programs such as grants and aid, would be a better solution to the problem of high college costs and that even removing tuition barriers would not truly increase access to higher education.

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