Jordan Bolton is a freshman business & English major at MU. He is an opinions columnist who writes about politics for The Maneater.
Free college tuition had been discussed as a distant possibility until the issue came to the forefront of conversations during the 2016 presidential election, when the U.S. was rife with political polarization and tension. With voters split between two candidates, who many believed were equally awful, the U.S. had a difficult choice to make. That is, unless you were a millennial.
A 2016 Gallup poll shows that a majority of millennials supported neither of the front-running candidates and instead backed a third option, Bernie Sanders. Sanders held a 55 percent majority of millennial support, while Clinton had 38 percent and Trump had only 22 percent. In an attempt to explain why millennials were flocking to the Sanders campaign, many looked to his progressive agenda, specifically the idea of free college tuition. Free tuition is certainly appealing to millennials who know all too well the struggle of paying for college. But it’s important to ask: Is free college a reasonable policy? Absolutely.
The cost of college burdens low-income students more than anyone else. In 2015 up to 40 percent of low-income students accepted into colleges failed to attend, and tuition is partly to blame, according to The Hechinger Report. This number doesn’t include the students who did not even attempt to apply because they knew finances would be an issue. The fact that such a large percentage of low-income students are turned away from pursuing a higher education is a key realization in breaking the cycle of poverty in the first place. Due to the significant strain of the cost of college on any American family, especially those who face poverty, it’s no wonder the Sanders campaign earned the support of millennials. It becomes clear that the idea of free college tuition is supported by younger people, and the need does exist, but affording such a policy is a different matter altogether.
The largest argument for those who oppose free college tuition is the cost. Certainly, paying for college tuition for all students would be a monumental burden on the U.S. government and taxpayers, right? Not necessarily. According to data collected by the U.S. Department of Education, the total cost for all four-year undergraduate students enrolled in state colleges in 2014 was around $62.585 billion. While this number is certainly nothing to scoff at, it’s imperative to keep in mind that this figure, even if on the low side, amounts to little over 10.4 percent of the U.S. defense budget of $598.5 billion. $60 billion is certainly no joke, but cost is not a very legitimate obstacle when the prize is relieving millions of students across the U.S. of the massive burden that is college debt and enabling any student to attend college.
College debt is an epidemic across the United States. It prevents some students from ever applying to colleges and prevents many other students that do apply from attending. In an attempt to break the cycle of poverty and provide sound access to higher education for everyone, it is blatantly apparent the idea of free college tuition is taking us in the right direction.