Should education be free for all?


By Boswell Hutson

If I told you that our tuition here at the University could be completely free, I bet your jaw would hit the floor. 

Free universal higher education is nearly unheard of in America. In Germany, however, a major power in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union, it was recently decided that tuition would be free — yes, you read that right, completely without charge.

Starting in the upcoming term, tuition is free for all students in Germany, even international students. (Grad school, anyone?) This was such a surprising concept to me that at first I didn’t realized the gravity of that investment.  

In my jealous rage, I wondered if this would be possible anywhere in the United States. 

While it may sound impractical, after a little thinking, it seems reasonably plausible to me. 

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I’m not claiming to be an expert on the United States’ budget, (I’m pretty happy I’m not because our budget seems like such a complex mass that I could never have a complete understanding of it) but it seems like the budget could pretty easily be reallocated to make free tuition possible. 

Making tuition free for students at U.S. public colleges would cost the government $62.6 billion. While this may seem like a lot, it’s only a fraction of the national budget.

At the risk of sounding simplistic, what if we allocated some of the money we spend on Humvees, rockets and troops in peaceful countries, and gave some, if not all, Americans free college educations? I know it’s far-fetched, and probably unlikely, but it seems like a plausible enough scenario for a developed country like the U.S. The U.S. Military budget is hovering somewhere around $640 billion, and  giving universal higher education less than 10 percent of that seems attainable. 

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the United States ranks first in the world in defense spending. That figure is more than the next nine countries combined, and every one of those except Russia and China are our allies. Perhaps we face more serious threats than I can comprehend, but that amount of money seems exorbitant, especially compared to every other nation in the world.

Once again, I’m not an expert on budgets, but it sure seems like there’s at least a little room somewhere in there for a broad-sweeping social program, if the population truly sees fit. 

Student debt from tuition loans in America is a staggering problem, putting nearly a $1.2 trillion burden on the economy. It’s gotten so bad, that two-thirds of American students are now expected to leave college with some form of debt. 

This, combined with crippling interest rates, has put America and Germany in contrasting places when it comes to higher education. While one sees education as free and equal for all, the other sees it as a way to make money, oftentimes off those who cannot afford it, aggravating a debt problem to out-of-control levels.

Education is the most important tool for empowerment, and more people should be able to take advantage of it. This would hypothetically create a more aware, educated society, where students would not have to worry about financial constraints, eliminating the prohibitive nature of higher education. 

As German Senator Dorothee Stapelfeldt puts it, “Tuition fees are unjust. They discourage young people who do not have a traditional academic family background from taking up study.” 

While cutting from something else to give to massive free tuition programs isn’t the most orthodox idea, I definitely see the appeal and think a surprising amount of others would, too, especially on a college campus like ours.

No, education isn’t the end-all-be-all of America’s ills, but it certainly should be valued highly, perhaps more than it already is. 

Maybe we have a priority problem here, by the way we choose to allocate our capital. Or maybe the way we spend our money is necessary. Either way, Germany, arguably Western Europe’s most stable power, thinks that universal higher education is a necessity, and they seem to be instituting it pretty well. 

I’m not sure if universal higher education, like universal health care, would go over well in America, but I do think it is at least worth a discussion, something that has yet to happen.

Boswell is a senior in LAS. He can be reached at [email protected].