Personal Essay- Politics (Why I Don't Think College Should be Free)

My politics, in case you couldn't tell, definitely lean strongly to the left. Not the far, extreme left, but probably the middle left. I consider myself socially quite liberal but sometimes financially a little less so, as I run a tight budget myself and sometimes I think the Democrats need to focus a little more on efficiency than spending quite so much. I also consider myself a realist in terms of certain things simply not working right out of the gate (universal healthcare) and know that a lot of progressive change takes a time (gun control). 

One thing that I have thought a lot about as the campaigning for the 2020 election starts rolling is the idea of "free college," an idea touted by far left candidates. As a kid who relied on loans, as a teacher in a low-socioeconomic area, and someone who is incredibly pro-higher education my take might be surprising- I don't think college should be free. What I do think is that college should be affordable for everyone, however that looks. When I was a student at UCLA from 2001-2005 my tuition ranged from about $3,500 to $4,500 a year (this doesn't take into account books, room and board, etc... all together each year cost about $16,000). For this upcoming year costs are nearly $13,000 for tuition alone, a huge increase that isn't matched by minimum wage, annual middle class earning power, etc... Not to mention student loan rates have gone up and living in a lot of cities has gotten more expensive as well. So while not free, more affordable that the current situation.  

This affordability could happen in a variety of ways, the most logical one is the government contributing more. Investing in college is investing in our society's future economy, plain and simple. This could also be done through more generous financial aid packages, credit for community service hours, incentives of finishing in four years, etc... Loan forgiveness could also be amped up and not made so complicated- I have made over a decade of continuos payment for my federal loans but consolidated them under a different program I'm not eligible. 

Totally free college, from how I see it, is problematic for several reasons. First of all, financial accountability is important training for the real world, both in figuring out how to finance your higher education experience, but also how to pay off loans once you graduate. Having a plan as soon as I graduated was incredible motivating for me for intrinsic reasons, but the fact that I had tens of thousands in loans was also an important kick in the butt. Another issue goes back to my realistic nature in terms of how the democrats spend money; there is no way state and federal governments are going to pony up the cash to allow all young adults go to school for free, while still providing quality educational programs. You'd see campuses deteriorate, faculty pay go down and deter experts from teaching, overcrowding, and programs even more impacted than they currently are. When does our government ever do a good job at making changes? Assuming privates would still cost, students with means would go there, as would the professors and you'd then see the gap between social classes deepen even more (I'm speculating here, but it makes sense). The money funneled into higher education would be pulled from other areas, say infrastructure projects or the care of the elderly, and those aspects of society would then suffer. And, to make my liberal friends even more angry, you'd have the issue of removing part of the student loan market from the economy, which would then negatively impact those sectors and cause dips in the market and would possibly contribute to recession rumblings. It's a domino effect. Unfortunate, but true. 

And why should college be free for everyone? The kid whose parents make $35,000 a year? Yup, they should get a generous financial aid package. The kid whose parents make $600,000 a year? They can't afford tuition? Please. There needs to be a sliding scale of aid, based on family income, with merit scholarships done separately. So maybe Beth has two doctor parents but is an amazing dancer; she can then qualify for benefits that aren't need-based. In education we talk a lot about the difference between equality and equity- this is one of those instances. We don't need to provide the same financial benefits to everyone- we need to help those in need first. 

I really don't believe free college right now is the answer. Affordable college, financial-education, creative solutions, and a realistic outlook are a much more realistic step forward from where we are now is. Perhaps free college is a good goal for twenty years in the future and we can gradually move in that direction. But in the term of the next president? I don't see how it could successfully happen.  

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