In my two previous posts, I discussed Liberal and Conservative perspectives on providing tuition-free college education. In this post, I will evaluate the strong and weak arguments of each position and express my own opinion on this issue. While Liberals claim that tuition-free college will increase the number of college graduates and decrease the ever-widening skills gap, they fail to adequately address the Conservative arguments that tuition prices are not the main obstacle to student success and that most Americans wouldn’t like the quality of the tuition-free colleges. The Conservative position also has its flaws as Conservatives claim tuition-free colleges are not the answer but fail to provide a reasonable alternative solution.
Despite some flaws in their arguments, I agree with the Conservatives because they are able to successfully counter the Liberals’ arguments. Conservatives are opposed to providing tuition-free college education. In fact, they argue that free-tuition college isn’t even free. Furthermore, they argue that tuition prices are not the main obstacle to student success and believe this issue should be handled by the private sector instead of the government. They also claim that the quality of tuition-free college would not meet America’s standards.
Let’s begin with the Liberals’ strong arguments. They claim that providing tuition-free college education will increase the number of college graduates. With more college graduates in the workforce, Liberals believe more people will be able to get better jobs and student debt will be greatly decreased. According to Jill Stein, providing tuition-free educational options will,” …abolish student debt to free a generation of Americans from debt servitude.” 1*
However, the weaknesses of the Liberal position outweigh the strengths. The Liberals are unable to counter the Conservative’s arguments that tuition prices are not the main obstacle to student success and that most Americans wouldn’t like the quality of the tuition-free colleges. Conservatives correctly state that there are other obstacles to student success such as education quality and student readiness. They also claim that most Americans will be surprised and unsatisfied by the quality of the tuition-free colleges. Liberals have little to say against these major conservative arguments and this is why I believe Conservatives hold the upper hand.
But, before I discuss the Conservative’s strong arguments, I would like to point out their weaknesses, for they do exist. According to a USA Today article, Conservatives, “…believe that empowering the private-sector loan market will ‘give students access to a multitude of financing options’ and drive down tuition costs by encouraging market competition.” 2* However, according to a Brookings Institute report, “economic theory predicts there will never be a large-scale, competitive, private market for student loans.” 2* This suggests that while the Conservatives claim that the Liberals’ solution is unreasonable, their solution may also be impractical.
Despite providing an impractical solution, I believe the Conservative’s position is still more persuasive. They provide ample evidence to support their claim that providing tuition-free college education is flawed policy. Conservatives state that tuition-free education really isn’t “free”; rather, “it simply shifts costs from students to taxpayers and caps tuition at zero.” 3* I do not believe that most U.S. college students would want the quality of their college education dependent upon how much money taxpayers would be willing to spend.
Conservatives also claim that factors other than tuition, such as college readiness, must be considered when measuring student success. According to a New York Times article by Andrew P. Kelly, despite free tuition, only one-third of students from the bottom income quartile who started at a community college in 2003 finished a degree or certificate by 2009. The numbers are equally disheartening for two-year students from the top income quartile (42 percent). 3* These and other statistics tell a similar story: it’s not just about the money. Andrew P. Kelly echoes the opinion of many when he suggests that policymakers should, “…target those resources toward those who need it most and empower them to choose the option—public or private—that fits their needs. A valuable degree is worth the investment even if you have to pay something for it.” 3*
Finally, tuition-free colleges will not meet most U.S. college students’ expectations. For example, tuition-free universities in Germany usually don’t provide sports, dorms, elaborate food, subsidized clubs and extracurricular activities, academic remediation, or flexibility in majors. 4* German colleges are, “…limited in their tasks, and therefore cheaper to run, than their American counterparts.” This type of higher education works well with highly motivated, mature students. However, “relatively few American students would flourish on these same terms.” 4*
To conclude, the Liberal position is strengthened by arguments such as an increase in college graduates and a decrease in the skills gap. The Conservative position is weakened by an unreasonable solution. However, the Liberals’ inability to combat main Conservative arguments convinces me to side with the Conservatives on this issue.