Should College Be Free: YES/NO? Pros And Cons

Early on, many students were able to attend public land-grant universities for free. That was made possible by the fact that only a small portion of Americans actually attended college. But when enrollment increased over time, each state’s financing needs to be increased as well. And as enrollment increased and state financing decreased, public colleges finally started charging tuition and hiking their rates.

Many public colleges in today’s society are so expensive that many students cannot afford to attend. As a result, students from lower-income homes are much less likely to enroll in college than children from higher-income families. This is true even though the federal government still offers financial aid to qualified students, including Pell Grants (which don’t require repayment).

This current reality draws me to a point where I join you in asking, should college be free? Let’s find out.

A Brief History Into Free Education In America

The American Founding Fathers were the first to advocate for publicly supported education. John Adams stated in a 1785 letter that “the whole people must take upon themselves the responsibility of the education of the whole people and must be willing to bear the expense of it.”

And, believe it or not, there was a period in American history when individuals were able to attend public colleges for free. Every American, regardless of social status, now has access to higher education because of the Morrill Act of 1862, which allowed states to establish land-grant schools on federally owned land. The goal was “to encourage the industrial classes’ liberal and practical education in the various endeavors and professions in life.”

The common school movement, spearheaded by educational reformers such as Horace Mann, gained momentum in the 1830s and 1840s. It aimed to establish free and accessible public schools funded by taxes. This movement played a pivotal role in the development of public education in America, laying the foundation for the notion of free education as a public good.

Following World War II, there was a surge in demand for higher education. In response, the federal government passed the G.I. Bill in 1944, providing educational benefits to veterans. This legislation greatly expanded access to higher education and contributed to the idea of free or subsidized education for certain populations.

In the early days, students could often attend public land-grant colleges without paying any tuition. That was possible because only a relatively small percentage of Americans actually attended college. But as enrollment grew over the years, so did the funding requirements in each state. And that led to public colleges eventually charging tuition and raising their fees as enrollment grew and state funding slowed.

It is important to note that while the concept of free education exists in America, the actual implementation varies across states and educational levels. Education funding primarily comes from a combination of federal, state, and local sources, with tax revenues playing a crucial role in supporting public education.

The history of free education in America reflects a continuous effort to provide accessible and affordable education to all citizens. While challenges and debates surrounding funding and equity persist, the commitment to ensuring educational opportunities for all remains a fundamental principle of the American education system.

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Why College Should Be Free: Pros

Wondering what earning a degree would be like if college isn’t as challenging to the pocket as it is today?

Here are a few reasons why we feel college should be free:

1. Improves Society

People are better at problem-solving when they have more education. This implies that society can advance more quickly.

According to Uopeople, people with knowledge can also comprehend their society’s past and present economic problems better. They might therefore be more motivated to engage in politics and advance their nation.

Additionally, the number of persons who are employable in high-skilled occupations rises as more people get access to a college education. The number of people entering the labor will increase as a result, which may help close the income gap between the upper, medium, and lower groups.

2. A Boosted Economy

Most students graduate with a huge amount of debt. For example, in the U.S., the average student debt per person is $31,172.

Students who graduate with debt are likely to keep accruing interest on their debt. As a result, it may take them many years to finally be able to escape their seemingly endless debt. This postpones spending on things like a house or car in the interim.

On the other hand, if someone were to graduate debt-free, it may hasten their ability to make money, put it away, and spend it. This promotes economic growth. There is increased demand as consumer spending rises. increased demand for goods and services also translates into greater chances for employment or increased demand for labor. This promotes a prosperous economic cycle.

3. Increased college enrollment

If tuition were free, graduating high school students wouldn’t have to think about cost when making a college list or selecting whether or not to go; instead, they would all likely apply right away to their top choices. The popularity of prestigious schools and universities would increase.

Public ones, on the other hand, would receive greater support from the federal and state governments. Additionally, businesses and organizations would gain from having a large pool of qualified candidates to hire, not just degree-granting institutions.

4. Lower dropout rate

There are many different reasons why students drop out of college. Among all dropouts, up to 38% of them cite financial constraints as the cause — and a third of them quit college even before their sophomore year, according to a report by educationdata.

If you are from a low-income family, you would not bother about dropping out of college if colleges were free.

5. Increased financial stability

Everyone is aware that having a college degree increases one’s earning potential. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) study on the 2021 Salary Survey, this benefit is immediately apparent.

Based on information from the aforementioned survey, degree holders’ typical starting salaries are on the rise.

For example, the average starting income for graduates of the Class of 2020 was $53,889, which was 2.5% higher than the average starting salary for graduates of the Class of 2019, and it was up 8.5% from the average starting salary of $50,944 for graduates of the Class of 2018.

6. It Leads To Improved Focus

Students can concentrate more effectively on their studies when they are not concerned about money. Even though they receive loans and financial aid, students may still find themselves preoccupied with concerns about how they will be able to pay them back later. This added stress can negatively impact their focus during the time when they are supposed to be learning.

Are There Countries That Offer Free College Education?

With the understanding of how important free college education is, many countries have adopted that pattern and made it a way to go.

Here’s a look at some countries where college is free or subsidized by the government:

  • Germany
  • Austria (free for EU residents, low cost for non-EU residents)
  • Finland
  • Czech Republic
  • France
  • Spain (free for EU residents, low cost for non-EU residents)

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How Can Government Pay For Free Public College?

Free college isn’t actually free. It must be paid for by someone. For a public college, the payers fall under this category. However, some economists think that if the federal and state governments made a few simple reforms, every American who wants to could attend college for free. They do not consider the idea to be fantastical. They consider it to be a highly viable choice. Some of the suggestions they have made are as follows:

  • Eliminating the corporate tax loopholes that permit businesses to lawfully avoid paying their fair share of taxes
  • Raising tax rates on the richest millionaires and billionaires in America
  • Imposing additional fees on speculative Wall Street trades
  • Shifting the majority of public funds now allocated for student financial aid to the creation of tuition-free public schools and universities
  • Reducing military spending
  • Rutting a stop to unnecessary government spending

Based on data from the NCES for the 2016-2017 academic year, it costs around $2.8 billion annually to make college tuition free (or nearly free) for over 585,000 low-income students at public colleges and universities in the U.S. if you just count the money given out in government grants. Grants, however, frequently fall short of covering all of a student’s tuition and expenditures. This means that in addition to subsidized and unsubsidized student loans, which can occasionally be challenging to repay, the federal government also provides work-study programs.

In 2020, Bernie Sanders proposed making education free. The cost of the proposed plan, stretched over ten years, would be $2.2 trillion, which would cover the cancellation of all outstanding student loan debt as well as tuition elimination at public universities, colleges, and trade schools. The idea would not, however, pay for books, lodging, and board, or any other costs; it would only pay for tuition and fees. If Sanders’ proposal is ever implemented, free education will be paid for by enacting a second law that levies a tax on speculative Wall Street sales transactions.

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Are There Reasons Why College Should Not Be Free? Cons

While making college free for all may be a great idea, there are downsides to it, many of which are worth considering. Let’s take a look at the cons of making college education free.

1. Increased student-to-faculty ratio

Attending a college with a low student-to-faculty ratio has many benefits. The most notable ones include improved learning environments, enhanced social involvement in the classroom, and more customized attention. So, in other words, it makes going to college more enjoyable.

In select classrooms at major universities, like MIT and CIT, the student-to-faculty ratio is as low as 3:1.

If attending college were free, you might not have the chance to participate in round-table discussions because you would probably spend every class in a lecture hall where it is assumed that all students learn in the same way and at the same pace and that all teachers are qualified to meet the academic needs of every student.

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2. Underpopulated less prestigious colleges

Many people have aspirations of enrolling in some of the country’s top colleges and universities. However, few people actually take the required actions to make that desire a reality.

The fact that elite schools have high tuition fees is one of the key reasons why many people avoid attending them.

And for this reason, if getting a degree was free, most high school graduates would attend elite institutions due to their newfound affordability, leaving less-elite ones to resemble ghost towns. Although the expense might no longer be a barrier, some applicants might still feel intimidated by the level of selection.

3. Free College Isn’t Really Free

A free college education isn’t entirely free. Students will still need to find a means to cover other college-related costs, such as books, lodging and board, transportation, high-speed internet, and maybe child care, even if a program offers free tuition. The importance of messaging in this, according to Dimino. “Students may apply for or enroll in college with the expectation that it will be free, only to encounter other unexpected costs along the way,” says the author.

It’s crucial that legislators take these aspects into account when developing future free college schemes. Otherwise, Dimino and other observers worry that enrolling in college and investing in it could lead to students being forced to drop out for financial reasons, which could leave them in a worse financial situation overall.

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4. Depletion of government funds

According to the latest data, the amount of money the US government allocates to the funding of public and state colleges is $189 billion. From 2017 to 2022, the annual increase in the total funding is 1.8%.

The amount of money required to maintain degree-granting public universities is that amount.

The government would need to provide more funding to these institutions if there were no tuition fees to acquire a degree there, as more students would apply. Private donors to public schools and universities may also decide to stop giving in order to prevent going bankrupt.

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What States Offer Free College In The US?

Free tuition is available for two- and four-year programs through several state initiatives. Free college doesn’t, however, equate to free tuition.

Tuition-free students frequently still have to pay for expenses including fees, lodging & board, and transportation. You can cover the cost by combining your funds, grants, scholarships, and work-study opportunities. These and other living expenses may be paid for with student loans, if necessary.

Here’s a list of states that offer free college:

  • New York
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Hawaii
  • Indiana
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Michigan
  • Nevada
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Rhode Island
  • Tennessee
  • Virginia
  • Washington State.

The University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education lists 115 last-dollar community college programs and 16 first-dollar community college programs, though the majority are limited to California residents. In addition, The University of Southern California offers tuition-free attendance to families with an annual income of $80,000 or less. USC does not count home ownership in its financial need calculation.

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Are There Alternatives To Free College?

According to, free colleges will not end the problem of college affordability in the US higher education system. Rather, the provision of flexible matching grants that serves as incentives o the education system will be a more pragmatic way to curb the high cost of attending colleges.

The provision of these grants by states will leave them with the responsibility of financing the higher education systems, reducing overdependence on student loan debt.

Here are a few other alternatives to free public college that have been put forward by various people include:

  • Increasing the current Pell Grant program significantly while reducing student loan borrowing.
  • Putting money into a system with better community and youth development initiatives.
  • Limiting the distribution of merit-based financial aid to wealthier students and directing that money toward expanding possibilities for students from lower and moderate-income groups.
  • Expanding and strengthening the apprenticeship program for training in skilled crafts and other professions.
  • Instead of relying on the higher education system to deliver fully trained personnel, greater incentives should be created to encourage firms to offer more thorough on-the-job training.
  • Increasing the incentives given to trade schools, colleges, and universities to keep tuition costs low.
  • Putting money into improved pre-college education informs children in greater depth about all of their potential alternatives.
  • Investing in improved financial education for everyone so that prior to enrolling in college or beginning their first job, all students become financially literate and understand how to make money work for them.
  • More public assistance should be given to entrepreneurs who are developing online, affordable, and personalized alternatives to established higher education institutions, including funding for research and development.

FAQs On Should College Be Free

What does it mean for college to be free?

When people talk about college being free, they typically refer to the idea of eliminating or significantly reducing tuition fees for students. This means that students would not have to pay out-of-pocket or take on student loans to cover the cost of tuition.

How would college be funded if it were free?

There are various proposals for funding free college. Some suggest using tax revenues to cover the cost, while others propose reallocating funds from other areas of the government’s budget. Some advocate for a combination of public and private funding, such as public-private partnerships or philanthropic contributions.

What are the potential benefits of free college?

Proponents argue that free college could increase college enrollment rates, reduce student debt, and create a more educated and skilled workforce. It could also potentially address income inequality and provide equal opportunities for individuals who might otherwise be deterred by the high cost of education.

Are there alternative solutions to address college affordability?

While free college is one approach, alternative solutions to address college affordability include expanding financial aid programs, increasing scholarships, implementing income-based repayment plans for student loans, and encouraging more investment in vocational training and community colleges.


The history of free colleges in America reflects a continuous effort to provide accessible and affordable education to all citizens. While challenges and debates surrounding funding and equity persist, the commitment to ensuring educational opportunities for all remains a fundamental principle of the American education system.


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