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Higher Education Debate: Why College is a Privilege and Not a Right

Some Americans argue that college should be paid for by students instead of taxpayers. They say college is a privilege, not a right.

Written By: Michael P. Lux, Esq.

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Editor’s Note: As part of the Student Loan Sherpa Debate Series, this article contains the arguments on why college should be considered a privilege and not a right. For the opposing view, check out the article on why college is a right for all.

A college degree has arguably never been more important nor more expensive. In the United States, the debate rages on about higher education funding and addressing student debt. Before addressing these complicated issues, Americans must address a more fundamental question. Should a college education be a right or a privilege?

Today we will lay out arguments for why Americans should treat college as a privilege rather than a right.

13 Years of Free Education is Already Enough

As a nation, we provide free education to our citizenry for at least 13 years. Students acquire essential reading, writing, and arithmetic skills during those 13 years. Beyond those basics, students can gain exposure to different careers and options available to them as adults.

At a certain point, people need to start contributing to society rather than just reaping the benefits of others’ hard work.

In our laws and our culture, we recognize 18 as the age of adulthood. By the time someone finishes high school, they should have the necessary skills to decide if they want to seek immediate employment, learn a trade, or pursue further education. If they choose to pursue further education, they should start bearing the responsibility for the costs.

Students enjoy the benefits of a college education — They should pay for it

In most cases, obtaining a college degree can increase long-term earning potential. For many, it is a significant increase. While society benefits from a better-educated citizenry and more robust tax base, the true beneficiary of a college education is the individual.

People who rally against “corporate welfare” or programs designed to stimulate business growth should likewise be opposed to free college education. The arguments are all the same. Why should taxpayers foot the bill when the individual or business can do it themselves? Even if taxpayers benefit slightly, the individual gets a significant benefit.

We already provide adequate higher education opportunities

College is not a privilege solely available to the wealthy.

Many higher education institutions offer programs aimed at providing access to a degree for those who want one. Americans have access to several grant programs, such as Pell grants, available to low-income families. Scholarships are available for many different kinds of individuals, including high-achievers and hard workers. And yes, student loans are also in place to help people find the money for school.

Not everyone gets to go to Harvard, but making college free wouldn’t change that. Our nation offers a variety of community colleges and state schools that are supported by taxpayers and more affordably priced. The fact that attending these institutions may not be easy for some misses the point. The truth is that opportunity in some form exists for all.

There is no need to make college free.

Access to education has never been better

If you have a computer and an internet connection, humanity’s collective knowledge is seemingly at your fingertips.

Even if you don’t have a computer or internet connection, these tools are available for free at your local library.

The number of resources online is truly staggering. Universities like Stanford and MIT offer free classes to anyone who wants to take one. Forums exist for knowledge seekers to collaborate with fellow artists, professionals, and students. Private companies like Google provide low-cost training programs for high-tech jobs.

These tools are available 24/7, and many are free of charge. In light of the many free and low-cost opportunities for further education, having taxpayers subsidize an expensive four-year education seems unnecessary.

College is a privilege we cannot afford

Providing a free college education for all Americans would be great.

Unfortunately, resources are limited. Shouldn’t we first address concerns like homelessness, hunger, and healthcare before providing additional free education?

About the Author

Student loan expert Michael Lux is a licensed attorney and the founder of The Student Loan Sherpa. He has helped borrowers navigate life with student debt since 2013.

Insight from Michael has been featured in US News & World Report, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, and numerous other online and print publications.

Michael is available for speaking engagements and to respond to press inquiries.

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