Free College With a Caveat

Alan Cai

August 18, 2023

Gas prices, food prices, soaring mortgage rates; Americans are not unfamiliar in recent years with growing household expenditures to stay afloat. With the pandemic-induced student loan moratorium coming to a close, millions of families who took out an expensive loan to pay for their education will add an additional burden to their inflation-cratered pockets. Wallets influence ballots and our nation may soon be seriously considering the prospect of universally free or subsidized college. As ideological opponents begin to clash and the details for funding sources are hammered out, an interesting new alternative can be introduced.

Despite receiving significant subsidies from state and federal governments, public universities still charge significant tuition for enrollment. Although government subsidies could plausibly guarantee free public university for all students, such an appropriation would be unfair to taxpayers. Although permitting students of lower income to attend the college of their choice is the duty of society, opening tuition support to students of all incomes is an unfair burden placed upon taxpayers. The crux of the issue lies in the fact that public universities do not admit all who wish to attend. Thus, making public institutions free is equivalent to channeling the wealth of the masses for the benefit of few not based on need, but based on college acceptance. The wealth at public universities’ disposal is not theirs to freely give to all of their students; it must represent the interest of the state.

Covering student tuition for community colleges which admit all students is a viable option and a valid venue for taxpayer funds. The fact that these institutions are designed to serve the community and have open attendance for everyone renders it permissible for students to attend for free with taxpayer dollars.

As their source of funding comes from donations in absence of tuition, private universities are free to channel resources as they see fit, unbound by the taxpayer limitations restricting their public counterparts. Especially for large private research universities that possess large endowments, universal free university is not only fiscally attainable, but also practically lucrative. By allowing all students to attend for free, private institutions secure the best student talent while alleviating financial pressure on their entire education population.

The central distinction between public and private universities is their revenue foundation. Concisely stated, taxpayer funding should not flow in a direction that fails to benefit the needy or the populace. Therefore, community colleges should make their tuition free, private institutions may eliminate fees, but public universities are barred from proceeding with such steps.