As a nation, we seem to understand the importance of a college education. Parents want their kids to go to college, high schools are judged based upon the percentage of students that go to college, and our federal government spends billions each year on higher education.
Despite this understanding of higher education’s importance, we still view college as more of a privilege than a right.
What would college look like if we treated it as a right?
If we genuinely viewed higher education as a fundamental right, at least some college options would have to be free of charge and funded by the taxpayers.
Those who funded their education or are still paying off their student loans may think free college is an absurd or unfair idea.
However, several arguments support the idea.
A college degree is the new high school diploma.
Long ago, we decided as a nation that everyone was entitled to a high school education. For decades, many jobs with an “education requirement” specified that an applicant needed a high school diploma.
Over the last generation or so, the most common education requirement has shifted from a high school diploma to a college degree.
As the job market has shifted to require more education, shouldn’t we provide our youth with the knowledge necessary to secure most jobs?
People had a right to a high school degree because it was necessary. Times have changed and now Americans should have the right to attend college.
Providing a free college education wouldn’t be that expensive.
As taxpayers, we spend billions each year on higher education. We subsidize many need-based student loans, and we provide a ton of need-based grants.
We also find ourselves fighting an uphill battle. As college prices increase, we need to spend more money helping lower-income families afford school. As we spend more money helping pay for education, colleges can increase the price. This self-perpetuating cycle has been going on for decades, and it is part of the reason college prices have spun out of control.
At a certain point, it makes more sense to make some schools free and to stop spending taxpayer dollars on others.
Students can pick a free education or pay to attend a private school. In this scenario, private schools would have to compete, and prices would return to more reasonable levels.
Some believe we have reached the point where free college is affordable. Even if we have to spend a little more to make college free, doesn’t it make sense to end the growing student debt problem our country is facing?
Higher education is fundamental to a productive society.
We can’t compete with the low labor prices of many other nations. As a result, we need a skilled workforce to compete in the global economy. Having a college degree doesn’t necessarily mean success, but it is a huge asset to becoming a contributing member of our society.
Many of our prison systems provide free higher education to inmates. We do this because there is a recognition that giving an education will help the prisoner be a productive citizen. Why shouldn’t law-abiding citizens get the same educational opportunities?
Should Americans have the right to attend college?
The educational demands of our society have significantly changed. A high school diploma doesn’t go nearly as far as it used to.
Admittedly, changing higher education funding at a fundamental level would be very difficult. However, it is not impossible. Our current system created a trillion-dollar student loan problem. Maybe a change is exactly what we need?