Marshall Honaker
Commentary

Current option calls for removal of tuition from from all public four-year universities, faces backlash for controversial reforms

According to a report released by the Federal Reserve in May, outstanding student loans in the United States have increased to approximately $1.19 trillion — a $78 billion increase since last year. With this increase, college loans have become the second largest source of debt in the country.

A few days after the release of this report, Vermont senator and presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders introduced legislation to Congress that would remove tuition and other such fees from all public, four-year universities in the country. This legislation could resolve many of the dilemmas facing recent graduates by heavily subsidizing public institutions of higher learning using federally generated tax revenue. However, the concept of making college free has faced significant controversy.

While removing tuition from universities would benefit students, I remain skeptical of the long-term effects of such a policy.

Funding such an expansive program remains an issue. While such legislation almost necessitates a raise in taxes, the tax reform policies touted by candidates — notably Sanders and Clinton — allow certain measures to be taken to facilitate and support the design and enactment of tuition reform policy.

The benefits of this type of policy are clear. The burden placed on graduates by outstanding student loans is rapidly approaching the scope and proportions of a crisis. Removing tuition and other such fees associated with a college education would not only aid those students saddled with college debt, but the rest of the country as well.

While students would feel the effects of free or reduced tuition immediately, long-term economic benefits could be reaped as well. A well-educated workforce would allow the U.S. to maintain its position as the world’s premier economic power, and further contribute to the development of a more advanced, complex society. This would also increase the productive capacity of the nation as a whole, allowing markets to expand and meet previously unsatisfied demands.

A major point of contention is the principle that college is not a right but a luxury, so access to education beyond secondary school is not guaranteed. Following that point, there is concern over the effect the proposals may have on the value of college degrees. If the supply of a good in a given market becomes too great, the value of that good decreases. Unfortunately, college degrees are not exempt from this principle.

I believe that in order to maintain the value and integrity of a university degree, access to such degrees should be restricted to those individuals most driven and deserving. However, it is also my belief that those individuals deemed most “deserving” should not be limited to those who can afford it. Therefore, legislation must be enacted so graduates of public universities are not faced with the nearly insurmountable task of repaying student loans while maintaining the competitive and rigorous nature of pursuing a college education.

While many students would benefit tremendously from legislation that makes college more affordable, the social cost and fairness of doing so remain ambiguous.

Many of my closest friends have been forced to take loans in order to afford the high costs of education in this country. They face ever-increasing obstacles after graduation because of these loans and the financial burden they place on recipients.

With this in mind, this is not an ethereal struggle best left to be resolved by an unseen entity in Washington, D.C. We as college students are the ones most affected by the future of any such legislation, so our thoughts, opinions and actions are more relevant than ever.