What free college looks like

Seethesh Moturi


Free college sounds like a great idea every time it’s brought up, and as of late it has been brought up a lot. With candidates like Bernie Sanders riling up crowds of millennials, college students, and people who like free stuff, expectations of free college education are high.

Sanders has made many promises and plans to ensure an economy that will focus on those who need money the most. However, free college might not be as “free” or as “college” as anyone is hoping.

An article in The Atlantic stated that, taking inflation into account, students “In 1979, when the minimum wage was $2.90 … could earn enough in one day (8.44 hours) to pay for one academic credit hour.”

Today, that isn’t quite the case. The cost per credit at Union is $894 if enrolled full time at 12-17 credits. Many schools have class-specific credit costs that range anywhere from $0 to north of $1,000, excluding textbook and supply costs.

Last year, the average college graduate left school with a little over $35,000 in student loan debt. This number is troubling because the average student takes roughly 20 years to fully pay off their loans. The hope for free or reduced state schooling is far from lazy or entitlement as some would like to paint it.

If anything is clear based on current statistics it’s that college is beginning to become too expensive for those who need it: the students.

What Sanders plans to do to rectify this is put two-thirds of the bill on the federal government and let individual states cover the rest of their own respective student costs. Since Sanders has not outlined his plan more specifically, supporters and adversaries alike have begun to discuss the likelihood of this plan coming to fruition.

In short, I don’t think his plan will. At least not the way we, the students, would like. If the states were expected to cover one-third of all their students’ undergraduate bills, it would amount to approximately $23 billion per year. That is, if the number of students enrolled stays the same as it was this year.

Kevin James, in an article for US News asserted that free college is an expensive idea and that “much of that money would provide a free education to students whose families can already afford it.”

One alternative that has been gaining popularity would involve free two-year degrees or trade certifications. From here, students would hold more reign over the job market along with both practical and academic experience. However, in opposition to this idea, there is the potential that a higher degree of education will be required as the baseline rises.

Essentially, higher education requirements demand even higher education requirements for even better jobs.

In order for this system to be judged fairly, I think it ought to be given a chance. Call me a dreamer, but I doubt that for “lazy” individuals, availability of funds would alter one’s decision to attend a place of higher learning.

The returns on free two-year degrees would be much higher than the current costs. With more students working toward trade degrees, and eventually getting jobs or starting businesses, there would again be a realistic incentive to getting an education.

Setheesh is a sophomore mathematics and religious education major.