Free College? Mission Implausible.

Free College? Mission Implausible.

By Rose Chen

College debt has plagued the lives of millions of college students. Statistics have shown that the average university graduate leaves with a bachelor’s degree in one hand and $46,000 debt in the other, and so when democratic candidates like Bernie Sanders promised free college, it is unsurprising that many broke out in applause. However, it is evident that these proposals are only sweet in theory. Upon closer analysis, these proposals are granted to be unrealistic and ineffective.

Bernie Sander’s College for All Act, which aims to expand work study programs, cut student loan interest rates, and pay for all 4 years of college across the nation, will cost $47 billion annually. Sanders proposes to get that money through a Robin Hood tax on trades in stocks, bonds, and currency exchanges (College for Now Act). Although the Wall Street tax will generate billions of dollars in revenue, paying for colleges will consume too much of the funds and therefore leave minimum funding for creating jobs, paying for healthcare, feeding the poor, and relieving the $19.3 trillion in federal debt.

Despite burdening the economy, a free college system has been taken on by a number of different countries such as Finland and Brazil. In fact, just last year, Germany declared its colleges free. So why is it that the United States can’t make a swift turn like Germany? For starters, Germany’s public colleges prior to the change only charged around $2,000 which is much lower than the $10,000+ in tuition that the U.S. must make up for each student. Moreover, there are drastically more Americans attending college than Germans which further increases the cost (Attn).

Germany’s free colleges are also quite different in terms of quality and quantity of campus activities. A team from a higher education discussion blog called “WGBH”, traveled to University of Cologne, in Heidelberg, Germany and observed that many aspects of college life that Americans take for granted, such as major clubs, cafeterias, dorms, and football stadiums are missing. They also have a higher student to staff ratio in which professors are paid less, teach large lecture classes, and take on tasks that American colleges hire separate administrators to do. American community colleges are the most similar in comparison to German colleges, but many Americans strive to attend state and private schools which has them paying higher amounts. According to a survey by USA News, 47 percent of high school students list campus as a top criteria when choosing colleges. Though financially impractical, Americans still retain the idea that higher monetary needs and tuitions translate to a better college.

Funding free college would also put schools completely under the control of the government. Even when students are paying partially for their education, the state government is already strictly  regulating the schools. The New York Times reported that Kentucky governor, Matt Bevin has called to reallocate the state funding for humanities into the STEM majors. His plan attracts students into studying STEM, while making schools unable to afford quality education in the arts because of reduced funding in those majors.

A tremendous cost in maintaining colleges and the possibility of excessive government control  make a free college system unrealistic and unsuitable for America, at least for now. The government should instead focus on continuing to provide financial aid for qualified families and have the students invest in their own education. Public universities should focus on improving curriculums and raising entrance bars in order to better compete with private universities that charge exorbitant sums for its “prestige.” In this way, students will overcome the growing perception of college as an economic trap and feel better about investing in a college education.



“Summary of Sen. Sanders’ College for All Act.” Senator Sanders. N.p.,n.d. Web.

“How Does Germany Afford Free Tuition For All Of Its Citizens?” Attn:. N.p., 27Mar. 2015.

Web.08 Apr. 2016.

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