Free College in the U.S. is Complicated


Abigail Kiley, Opinions Writer

One point that is commonly brought up in American politics is free college. At base value, free college sounds great. Why wouldn’t you want free higher education for all Americans? While this is a great goal to work towards, making college free for everybody is much more nuanced than some may think. 

There is no doubt that the expenses from collegiate schooling in America are extremely high, and in a lot of cases very unreasonable. A data collection from 2020 shows that 30% of all American adults have student debt. This debt follows people for much of their lives. 

The tuition cost to attend DePaul University in Illinois for one year is over $40,000. In lots of cases, attending college is more than the median American salary. Having college this costly is highly impractical and unreasonable for many, which is why we should work towards lowering tuition rates and giving “free” college education when possible in the correct manner.

There have also been many faults that come along with attempting to provide “free” college education. In 2016, Oregon announced that tuition at community colleges within the state would be free. But by 2017, there were not the necessary funds to continue having free tuition for all, so some students were denied the opportunity they were originally given. Instances such as these are the reasons that funding free college is not as simple as some may think.

Additionally, “free” college does not necessarily refer to college being completely free. There are multiple categories that “free college” can be in. “First-dollar” refers to getting rid of tuition before grants and scholarships, while “second-dollar” refers to getting rid of tuition after grants and scholarships. Research has proven increased enrollment from both of these methods, but with first-dollar being more successful. Last-dollar costs less for states, so this program is more common because of the financial ease. A major negative of last-dollar is that low-income students are not helped because of the Pell Grant they often receive for being low-income. Another “free college” category is “need-based.” This is specifically targeted at providing financial aid to low-income students. 

While there are many different ways to lower college tuition or provide “free” college to students, all strategies have complications that are going to unequally affect certain social classes. It is also important to note that the money paying for these college educations is coming from taxpayer pockets. This is why acts should be passed that thoughtfully address the best approach to making college more affordable to all students. The blanket statement of we should have “free college” is not enough to address the true nuances and complexities that come with having college be “free.”