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College Education Should Be Free

The purpose of the research paper is to investigate the possibility of making Americas college education free. The cost of college education has increased beyond affordable levels. It has risen by 1,122% between 1978 and 2015. However, college education in America was free in the past. Universities and colleges that were established through the passing of the Morrill Act of 1862 had free college education. The cost started increasing at different times in the states, and it has become unaffordable for most Americans. In particular, 62% of citizens consider college education unaffordable. Moreover, 38 million American students owe the federal government $1.3 trillion in loan debt, which is a crisis. Many Americans are migrating to Germany and other countries where college education is free and there are ready jobs after studies. Therefore, America will lose skilled labor in the future if it does not make its college education free.

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One of the major challenges that the American education system currently faces is the surging cost of college and university tuition. According to Noack (2016), the cost of university tuition has increased by 500% since 1985. Ellison (2016) explains that the fees that the universities and colleges charge for a four-year undergraduate program have increased by 1,122% from 1978. Despite statistical data indicating different figures concerning the increase in the cost of higher education, the underlying impression is that college education has become expensive. College education is beyond the reach of most Americans because of soaring costs and untenable loan debts (Ellison, 2016). Consequently, Ellison observes that it is significant for America to make its college education free so that all people, including students who cannot afford to pay higher education loans, can access it. The history of the country reveals that it had free university and college education, especially starting from 1862 when the Land Grant College Act came into life after President Abraham Lincoln signed it (Ellison, 2016). Free college tuition is good for America because it will restore educational opportunities for all Americans but it will also transfer the burden to taxpayers, attract resentment from private institutions, and require a unitary approach from the states, which has been lacking.

Historical Context

Free college education is not a new concept in America. According to Wittner (2015), the United States had free college education until fairly recently. In particular, 1862 was a remarkable year when America started providing its citizens with unpaid college and university tuition through the passing of the Morrill Act that led to the foundation of land-grant public universities and colleges (Wittner, 2015; Ellison, 2016). However, the countrys states differed in the extent and period within which they guaranteed their citizens free college education (Sherman, 2016). Sherman (2016) discusses that colleges and universities established in America through the Land Grant College Act had free tuition during the 1860s. Nonetheless, the tendency started changing gradually, with the states turning from absolutely free college education to the one that was subsidized and later withdrawing their sponsorship (Sherman, 2016). Although California had free college tuition until the 1970s, the states higher learning was not absolutely free starting from 1921 because it introduced small fees (Sherman, 2016).

The historical perspective of free college education in the United States reveals that its major challenge is a lack of a nationwide approach. Sherman (2016) discusses the argument of John Thelin, a professor at the University of Kentucky. According to Professor Thelin, America has never set a national basis that guided its college education (Sherman, 2016). As it is evident in most of the Nordic countries, national standards are necessary for a country to achieve free college education. However, in America, each state sets its rules that determine the fees for college tuition (Sherman, 2016). In addition, college tuition in the country is a subject of approval by each of the state legislatures or their respective boards of trustees (Sherman, 2016). The existence of such divisive policies has denied America the opportunity to achieve free college education that was apparent in the past.

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The past of Americas free college education has also had states responding to the issue differently. Edvisors Network (n.d.) gives insight into the policies that the states adopted in the past to reach the vision of free college education. In 1935, for instance, the Constitution of the State Arizona required the state to provide its students with higher education that was as nearly free as possible (Edvisors Network, n.d.). California had tuition-free community colleges until the academic year 1984-85 when the state started charging a fee of $5 for each credit unit (Edvisors Network, n.d.). Indiana developed a program for its 21st-century scholars in 1990, but it was discriminating because only the 7th and 8th graders who were involved in prep activities, achieved passing grades, and stayed away from drugs qualified for the program that guaranteed them free tuition (Edvisors Network, n.d.). In 2014, the state of Tennessee promised its citizens free college learning, beginning with high school graduates of 2015 (Edvisors Network, n.d.). It appears that the American states differ in terms of their approaches and commitment to free college education according to the historical information that Edvisors Network provides. Nevertheless, some states like Tennessee have seen the need to bring back free college education. The nation requires a united approach, whereby all the states should guarantee citizens free college education.


The core problem with American higher education, which has caused a public outcry over free college tuition, is exorbitant fees that students pay. America has had an unimaginable rise in its tuition fees since the 1970s. As mentioned earlier, the fees that college students pay for a 4-year program have increased by 1,122% compared to 1978 as the base year (Ellison, 2016). Due to the galloping hike in college fees, it has become more expensive to afford higher learning today than at any time in the Americas past. Worsening the situation is the fact that student loan debts have become untenable and hit a point of crisis. Ellison (2016) explains that by 2015, 38 million American college students owed the state debts amounting to $1.3 trillion. Loan debts for college tuition have exceeded credit card and auto loans (Ellison, 2016), suggesting that America produces a generation of indebted graduates who depend on loans because they cannot afford to pay for college education.

The superior perception among the majority of Americans is that public college tuition is unaffordable. Kingkade (2013) states that 62% of citizens are of the above view, particularly because of high fees that colleges charge learners. The current annual cost of college education in public institutions is $9,139 for resident students, while their non-resident counterparts pay $22,958 (Wittner, 2015). It is evident that the federal government of the United States should address the issues of inequity and unaffordable college education across the states, and providing free college education is the best intervention.

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Findings and Discussion

America can make its college education free, thereby giving all citizens access to higher learning, because other countries have achieved the vision. According to Noack (2016), many Americans get college in Germany because it is one of the countries with free college tuition. He also explains that estimated 10,000 American citizens are learning freely in Germanys institutions of higher education. Free college tuition is strategic, and Germany gives it without discriminating foreign students because it helps the country to attract skilled workers who support its industrialization and other development sectors (Noack, 2016). For example, the recent years have been characterized by Germanys inability to find qualified personnel to fill vacancies because of the higher number of those who are retiring than those who are hired (Noack, 2016). Consequently, Germany sees free college tuition as a strategy that can help it to fill the employment gap.

America should critically consider the outflow of its scholars to Germany, where they get free education and fill the employment gap. It means that the United States will lack adequate qualified employees if it does not provide its citizens with free college tuition. Nonetheless, taxpayers will suffer instead. Noack (2016) explains that in Germany, taxpayers have accepted to meet the expenditure of free tuition because of the potential gain of solving the employment gap or giving the country the skilled labor it needs. America should also perceive free college tuition as an intervention that will increase its access to qualified employees that, in turn, will result in economic development.

Research has found some of the methods that America could use to implement free college education. The first option is to transfer the burden of college tuition to taxpayers, the majority of whom is the working class (Noack, 2016). This alternative can work if taxpayers accept to bear the cost of college education on behalf of students. They should think like the Germans by seeing the long-term benefit that free college education will bring to the American economy. However, the second solution involves students studying freely, but they will pay a minimum tax of 3% of their salary for 24 years of employment (Kingkade, 2013). Kingkade (2013) explains that it is the alternative that Oregon has proposed. The challenge, however, is its low public support. According to Kingkade (2013), only 30% of the participants surveyed in a study in Oregon agreed that it was a workable approach, but 54% of the respondents stated that they would rather pay for college education instead of postponing the cost to their employment time.

The government can support free college education, making it affordable. Firstly, it has subsidized the oil and gas industries using hundreds of billions of dollars (Ellison, 2016). The government sees the sectors as pivotal to its economic development. However, education plays a more important role of availing the skilled workforce that the oil and gas sectors require for them to flourish. Therefore, the government should envisage free college education as an intervention that brings economic growth just like the oil and gas industries. Secondly, the American government can eliminate student debts, but it is not enough. Besides eliminating debts, Ellison (2016) explains that Americans must think about how to reframe the countrys higher education so that all people can access it. In his words, Americas higher education should not only be debt-free but also absolutely free. It is also justifiable that America should give its people free college education because the nation already has free primary and secondary learning (Ellison, 2016). Ellison (2016) supports extending free education to cover colleges and universities because it is the most basic responsibility of the community, which will ensure that all Americans, irrespective of their social classes, enjoy the right to education. Combining these arguments with the fact that America is the wealthiest economy in the world, he states that America can afford to guarantee free college tuition, and it will become a ready option for all American households.

Free college education is necessary because it will give all Americans the opportunity to learn and become productive people who will contribute positively to the economys growth. America should begin viewing free college tuition differently. It is not a burden to taxpayers as many people may think, but it is a way of strengthening the countrys future economic growth by creating the needed skilled labor like in Germany. Since the current system is only affordable for the rich, and it has created a community of indebted graduates, America should eliminate student loan debts and turn to free college education.


Free college education is good for America and its citizens because it will give all Americans equal opportunities to education. It also supports economic development because it develops the skilled labor that any economy requires for its growth. The vision of free college education is achievable in America because other countries have implemented it. Presently, college tuition is unaffordable for most Americans because of high fees. Many Americans have migrated to Germany and other nations with free college education, but they are unlikely to return and work in the Unites States because Germany gives them ready employment after completing their studies. Therefore, America risks continuing losing its future workforce or skilled employees if it does not turn to free college education. Despite the view that free college education is a burden to taxpayers, it is a viable intervention with prospective economic gains in the future. Therefore, it is the best strategy for America to solve the debt crisis, give all its citizens access to education, and solve the challenge of migrating Americans who seek affordable education in other countries.

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