Op-Eds Opinion

American Education Will Never Be “Free” But Will It Always Be Broken?

They say the best things in life are free. This time “they” means the Germans, and the “best things” are higher education opportunities.

Tyler Leahy
Opinions Editor




leahyThey say the best things in life are free. This time “they” means the Germans, and the “best things” are higher education opportunities.

On Wednesday, Lower Saxony became the final of the seven German states to scrap tuition fees for college students following a rash of large-scale protests. German officials have cited tuition fees to be “socially unjust.”

Of course, there is no such thing as free higher education, as the cost will hit German citizens in the form of taxation.  It raises an interesting train of thought though, especially with British citizens looking to emulate such protests on Nov. 19, planning to organize by the thousands in London.

Americans are likely too divisive to ever see free tuition in my lifetime. Perhaps, however, we should take to heart the German feeling that higher education is a social right in our attempts to fix our broken higher education system.

Cost of tuition has no correlation to the recession, or to the economic state of our country. It is an entity that inflates at a faster rate entirely on its own. American students can get educated at prestigious universities north of the border in Canada for roughly half of the cost as their counterparts here in the United States.

While I am not suggesting a magical quick fix, I hope readers realize that our current higher education system is indeed broken. Sure, most Americans will write off any suggestion of universal collegiate education as socialist. I am not suggesting this solution, rather consider that our current for-profit system needs to change.

Consider the Free Application for Federal Aid (FAFSA) to be a microcosm of the out of control spending that results from our stubborn American ideologies. According to research by the Center for College Affordability, “The current FAFSA imposes costs of roughly $3.5 billion.”

$2.3 billion is spent on families to fill out the FAFSA, half a billion by schools for verification, another half a billion to help students navigate and understand the aid system, and $220 million for the government to process applications. The research suggests that if our system were reformed, cost could feasibly be lowered to around $900 million.

The Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is loosely based on a family budget from 1967. How the American government expects a twenty-first century family to be accounted for by a forty-seven-year-old budget makes no sense. It makes sense why there has been no change.

Colleges and universities spend millions each year lobbying so that the FAFSA formula will always calculate a family contribution figure that is nearly impossible to meet for middle class families.

Because of this impossibility, students are nudged towards absurd federal loans. The money-making cycle goes on and on.

The near-impossibility of affording a college education for first-generation college students in the United States is something the Germans would scoff at. In fact, the reasoning behind their choice of free tuition is just that. Without it, there would be no opportunity for lower class and middle class citizens to climb the social ladder.

To the students on this campus, I am sure you have witnessed it yourself. Friends with bright futures forced to leave school because the cost over four years was simply too much, their family’s credit not esteemed enough to take out the hefty loans needed. I have seen multiple close friends leave for just that reason. I nearly missed a semester myself due to loan complications, and will likely forego graduate education due to my concern with cost.

This is not a complaint that our lives are too hard, or that our debt will be insurmountable. It is an admission that we are all victims of a broken system, willing victims at that. In between now and the time you are parents yourself, speak out against it.

It may take a ridiculous amount of time to pay off my loans, and I have accepted that. I will not, on the other hand, accept that the next generation has it any worse than students do now financially. Their tuition will not be “free,” but the next generation should not have to deal with a forty-seven-year-old system.

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