The real price of a free college education

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Critics of rising tuition costs love to use countries like Sweden and Denmark as examples that a free, quality college education is possible. However, it is important to note that these countries and other countries that offer a free college education also tax their citizens an obscene amount of money to fund that education. Denmark, in particular, has a personal income tax rate of 55.8 percent.

As somebody with hopes of pursuing a post-bachelor’s degree and relies on loans and grants to fund my education, it seems strange that I would be against having my tuition woes eradicated. However, I’ve realized that I don’t plan on being a student for life (and neither should you!). Ideally, a college student should only expect to be in school for four or five years, and maybe two to 10 more years if they intend to go into graduate or medical school. True, 10 years seems like an interminable amount of time — but relative to the rest of your life, it’s really only a small fraction of it.

Granted, in countries with free education, students graduate with little to no debt. American students, on the other hand, can expect to be paying off loans until 21 years after they graduate. However, as selfish as this sounds, I’d rather be hemorrhaging money on my own education than funding another’s via high tax rates for the rest of my life.

The truth is, many of us want a free college education but not all of us are willing to work hard for it. Even now, with college being so expensive, there’s already so many students that don’t take it seriously. It’s naive to believe every student that’s attending college at the moment is savoring every minute of their experience and working hard toward their degree. There are those who go to college on their parent’s dime and have no qualms missing class for a chance to sleep in — how different would the situation be if they were going to school on someone else’s paycheck?

In Denmark where college students get free education and a stipend, students pursuing a combined bachelor-master’s degree program (nominally a five-year process) take an average of six years to graduate. Sure, not all those students are dallying around and wasting time. College is definitely a time where people explore different majors and discover what they’re really interested in. However, it seems that there’s no pressure graduate in a certain number of years, or to immediately join the workforce since it’s not their wallets being cleaned out.

Instead, the burden of college debt can be remedied by more forgiving interest rates. If student debt didn’t accumulate so rapidly, post-grads wouldn’t have to spend so long paying it off. Larger grants and scholarships could be awarded which could be funded by an increased initiative by colleges to canvass donations from alumni. Instead of making education free for everyone where it can be abused and taken for granted, free education could just be targeted toward those who are in dire need of financial assistance.

Students could also be rewarded for their academic performance and involvement on campus. Perhaps a system like this could even foster student pride and involvement within their campus.

Making college education free is not the only solution to absolving students from debt or financial hardship. It only shifts the financial burden from one group to another. With a little creativity, an alternative solution that benefits everyone can be developed.

 

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