Opinion: Why I don’t want free tuition

Lucas Misera

Lucas Misera

Bernie Sanders is gathering momentum heading into the New Hampshire primary; the Vermont senator is officially a legitimate threat to Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

The animated Sanders has attracted a plethora of youthful voters across the U.S., attempting to mobilize a typically politically inactive demographic through promising to tackle Wall Street, fight for social equality and confront the perplexing issue of income inequality.

One stance by Sanders is that tuition at public universities should be free; an idealistic vision for any twenty-something-year-old trying to make ends meet due to rising tuition prices.

As an out-of-state student paying approximately $8,000 more than in-state students, I understand the fear of taking out loans. By the end of my time at Kent State, I’ve accepted the inevitability of debt and the financial burden it may create in the long-run.

Skyrocketing tuition prices serve as a real problem, but Sanders’ plan appears unrealistic and unappealing. Understandably, rising student debt is a major concern.

On Sanders’ campaign website, he cited that Germany reduced its $1,300 tuition prices down to nothing, encouraging more students to attend universities. Here’s the problem: in-state tuition in the U.S. is around $10,000 on average, and that figure excludes exorbitant fees for administrative fees, cost of living and textbooks. Sanders plans on covering the cost of his plan by implementing various taxes on Wall Street, but many pundits find that covering tuition at every public university would be too burdensome. If Hillary’s major rival is prepared to back up his plan realistically, he might want to start with capping student loan interest rates so that it’s less financially debilitating in the near future.

Beyond gripes with its feasibility, it’s possible that free tuition would devalue a college degree: Being able to put an undergraduate or graduate degree on a resume is a privilege, an indicator of perseverance and work ethic. Tuition is what separates state schools at the secondary and post-secondary levels. In high school, the expectation is that students should graduate. College students, inversely, bury themselves in debt in an effort to prove to employers that they have the cognitive capacity and skills necessary to be a productive member in the work place. A degree from a university is an investment, but it’s one that pays off.

According to The Economist, college graduates make about $17,500 more on average than students with only high school diplomas. However, under Bernie’s plan for free tuition, wouldn’t attracting more students to four-year universities increase the supply of college graduates, clutter the job market, and subsequently lower wages due to the influx of workers with higher education? Although the plan would improve the overall return on investment, it’s unclear what long-term effect free tuition would have on the job market in the long run.

Perhaps we find ourselves so entrenched in such a lucrative system that imagining anything else seems impossible, but an overhaul on the educational system in four years seems more of a dream than reality.

Lucas Misera is an opinion writer for The Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].