I would like to clarify a misunderstanding I read tonight on The Odyssey. The author was arguing against why college shouldn’t be free to all students. I see the argument as fundamentally flawed. In an ideological society we would say there is enough scholarship and financial aid to go around, and go for everyone who wants it. As a current college student who is on campus, and living with people who are in financial need and apply to hundreds of different scholarships, I have watched some of these people be forced to turn down better opportunities due to financial reasons. I would like to clarify the misunderstandings about getting a free education regarding the psychological and economic aspects of it.
Before we begin, let me address the elephant in the room. If we have free college, it is going to be expensive for the taxpayers. According to The Atlantic, providing free college would cost the government approximately 62.6 billion dollars. This money constitutes an investment, which the government is making on the students in this country. Our populace, however will be more capable of paying into this system, since people will be making more money, and they will be moving up in tax brackets. This 62.6 billion dollar number also considers that every college loan is paid for, however, this will likely not be the case. The size of our yearly income is approximately 3525.2 billion dollars. Considering that sum of money, I feel we could find money somewhere, and prevent us from closing schools.
First, let us discuss the economics of this situation. Marginal Social Costs and Marginal Social Benefits are the costs and benefits people other than the consumer get from a product. Well the MSB of having every young person in America have a college degree is a drastic increase in our economic productivity. If you look at countries like Finland and Sweden, yes they are “socialist”, but they invest more money than anyone in the world into their kids, and it is paying dividends for them as they now have some of the best growing economies in the world. By creating a system where we invest into our workforce, our students, we create a stronger, and smarter America. If we are speaking in economics terms, we are going to shift the productions possibilities curve outward, allowing us to be a more productive economy and increasing our GDP.
The demand line for college has always been really high, which is why college acceptances to the top universities in the country have always been very selective, because people are going to apply to them and want to be part of the best education systems in the world however, our current university system has a limit to the number of students it can take in, making it supply inelastic. Due to this, we will have smarter people going to college. In the state of Georgia, they have a program called HOPE which provides college education to students who have earned it. The state pays 80-100% of the tuition of students who earn a GPA. Due to this, acceptance for state schools in Georgia is highly competitive. (As an aside, Georgia has some of the lowest test scores, but it also has the most students who take these exams, a testament to how much people value education.)
If College was free for everyone, the admissions would become increasingly more difficult since money is no longer a factor. You know that supply and demand I mentioned earlier? Well, this situation is considered supply inelastic, or the supply will not change. The demand on the other hand will go through the roof, so now colleges can take who they want, and good universities in the United States would be able to take only the best of the best. College then would definitely be something you “earn.” Another added point the article completely decided to ignore is the now heaps of people who are vying for your spot at these universities and waiting for you to fail out. If you look at Universities such as Harvard or MIT, they put students on a wait list, since they know their college will always be full since people want those top spots. They give students “after one year” or “after one semester” acceptance so they are free to kick people out, knowing they will always have a full university. If you made college free for everyone, then this would be spread to more universities. People who disrespect the opportunity they are given, lose it after their first semester or first year.
By saying we make college free, I am not saying we create a system where everyone gets a free college education regardless of which university they go to. Every state has one or two large universities which are renowned and well-known throughout. If we limit the opportunities for a free education to these universities, the supply I mentioned earlier will be even lower. This will leave smaller universities and private institutions as avenues for people who can afford them, and allowing people with money to have the ability to gain access to a good education system. In this system both parties, those who can afford it and those who can’t, are better off for it.
I know I mentioned earlier how scholarships are available to those who are in financial need, but the current system we have in place has dozens of loopholes which don’t allow people to gain money from it. Instead of creating a heavily discriminatory system which doesn’t pay out like it should, let us create a system which allows for people to gain the support they need. Scholarships are also not plentiful enough to allow students to graduate from college without staggering amounts of debt, and into a market which does not have readily available jobs for them.
Provide people an opportunity to get a better future, and don’t put a price tag, but allow them to get there with their own hard work and dedication. We will all be better for it.
University of South Carolina