A college education is one of a person’s best investments, but college tuition is getting substantially more expensive. In the past, people have been used to paying for college by working and borrowing from their parents or grandparents. However, it’s very difficult for working people to pay for four years worth of tuition without ruining their quality of life.

Is Free College a Good Idea?

The three main arguments against free college education are that it would substantially increase government spending, that government schools are much less productive than private schools, and that the US is already moving towards a universal college education.

Argument 1: Free College Isn’t a Good Investment for the US Government

The US government has spent trillions of dollars on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and on debt service payments to foreign nations. Spending billions of dollars to provide high-quality education for everyone would not make sense in this context because it would be diverting budget resources from the military.

Argument 2: Government Schools Are Least Productive

Government schools are generally not as productive as private schools. It has been especially true in recent decades because politicians tended to take more students using federal student loans, crowding out the competition from private lenders.

Argument 3: College Education is Already Going To be Free

The US is moving towards a system where one can pay for a college education using grants and student loans from the federal government. In practice, this means that most people will have to borrow large sums of money or have to take jobs with low wages until they pay their debt off.

Benefits of Free College

  1. Free education would probably be a good thing. It would help people with low incomes and make college education more accessible to anyone who had the intelligence and motivation to attend.
  2. Free education would increase the number of college graduates in the US. It would help the economy by increasing productivity and giving more people opportunities for employment.
  3. Free college would reduce mental health problems among people exposed to overwhelming amounts of debt and stress related to paying for a college education.
  4. Free college would reduce inequality because students from poor areas would be able to enter higher education more easily than before.

A free college education would reduce inequality and help the US economy, but it would have many serious costs. It isn’t easy to calculate exactly what these costs would be, but they could probably be estimated at trillions of dollars in the short term and trillions of dollars over time. It’s not clear that this is a good use of money in an economic crisis.