People weary of searching for a university or college they can afford to attend might wonder if tuition-free colleges exist. Yes, they do. They exist in several forms, and although tuition-free school programs are controversial, students take advantage of them every day. Why would a program that allows more students to access higher education be controversial? Political candidates have been calling on the government to intervene to stem the cataclysmic rise in college tuitions.
Kinds of Tuition-Free Schools
Some schools are tuition-free for students who qualify as low income. They often set a maximum family income as a requisite and then require either a very small or no parental contribution from families with incomes at or below that level. Some schools have eliminated student loans for all students and replaced them with scholarships or grants that do not have to be repaid. Another type of school offers free tuition as well as room and board to students in exchange for a stipulated amount of work each semester, either on campus or in the community.
Why Offer Free Tuition?
Since 1978 college tuition has risen 1,122 percent. That is devastating for students from families that cannot afford to pay high tuition and might keep a student from earning a degree. Proponents of tuition-free colleges say that high tuition is a factor in the increasing struggle of America to maintain a technological edge among other nations.
Additionally, graduates with high student debt may take jobs in other fields or carry two jobs just to repay their loans. A Forbes article says that 45 million borrowers today are struggling to repay a staggering collective student debt of more than 1.5 trillion dollars. Student loan default is another issue faced by colleges and lending institutions. In 2019, 22 percent of student borrowers defaulted on their loans.
Why the Controversy?
The first argument against free tuition is that it isn’t free. Someone has to pay the bill, and it is usually the government. That means taxpayers shoulder the debt. Another argument against a tuition-free program is that the return on the investment isn’t high. While two out of three occupations in the United States today require some higher education or training, they do not necessarily require a degree. Additionally, a survey of employers found that the perceived value in an applicant’s degree was not competence or skills in his field, it was because employers saw those applicants as being smarter and more adaptable.
Plus, while college educations may equate with higher earnings, opponents say that there is a decline in the number of students who graduate, especially from community colleges. Paying the tuition of those students would be a waste of funds. Another argument against the programs is that they are unfair to students who can afford, and are charged, tuition.
Examples of Tuition-Free Schools
Alice Lloyd College is an Appalachian school that requires all students to participate in a work-study program regardless of income. The school guarantees tuition to students from a specified area within the Appalachian region. It still, however, charges room and board and other expenses. Students graduate with an average of $6,000 in debt.
Amherst College replaces all student loans with scholarships and grants. Berea College in Kentucky charges no tuition and requires students to work at least 10 hours a week to pay for room, board and books. Parents of students at Duke University, Dartmouth, Cornell and other big-name schools who earn below a set income are not expected to contribute to a student degree program. The school itself is not tuition-free, but a large number of students will be able to satisfy their debts through scholarships and grants. The College of the Ozarks in Branson, Missouri prefers students from Missouri and is selective in acceptance. They get some money from FAFSA and other government programs, but the majority of student aid comes from donors. The highly-ranked school charges no tuition or room and board but requires students to work at a campus business or in the community 15 hours a week.
Related Resource: 20 Tuition-Free Colleges
These schools are just examples of the types of schools that fit this inquiry. While there is some controversy about the programs, there is no argument about the rising cost of education in America. These, and other, tuition-free schools attempt to meet the needs of students by reducing the financial burden of earning a college degree.