Free College

Should college education be considered a basic right in the United States?By
cover icon for Free CollegeAttribution: Midjourney


The term "free college" means a college education where the government fully covers the tuition, and students would only have to pay for room and board. This topic has been a central campaign point for many prominent Democrats in recent years. This debate has become increasingly important as more Americans become interested in higher education. According to the NCES, in 2019, the average cost of a 4-year degree was 35,676 dollars, nearly double what it was in the '80s (adjusted for inflation). Republicans question the good that government intervention can accomplish, while Democrats believe that no American should incur debt to receive higher education.


Republicans generally oppose the idea of free college since it would burden taxpayers with additional hundreds of billions of dollars, something which goes against the fiscally conservative beliefs of the Republican party.

The idea of free college also brings up the issue of the free-rider tax, where costs are spread over a large group of individuals, even though the majority of those individuals wouldn't use or benefit from what they pay for. Republicans argue that since only one-third of Americans pursue a college degree, the other two-thirds should not be burdened by the tax hike. They claim that the government paying for someone's college is no different than them paying for a house, truck, or any other expense that would benefit that individual and that the push for free college is just a means for appeasing young voters.

Many Republicans also maintain that further government subsidies on college would only drive up the price of tuition, as it has in the past. When the government began guaranteeing student loans, universities started to raise prices since they correctly calculated that they could increase costs without having a major free-market reaction since students were spending money that wasn't theirs. What began as a push to make college more accessible quickly became the greatest scam in history, all due to government intervention in the private sector. The loans themselves became the reason people needed the loans.

Republicans argue that student loans should not be forgiven out of the blue; even though it is the government's fault for creating the current climate, no one forced the student to take out the loan or chose to go to an expensive college. Some Republicans do, however, believe that individuals should be able to declare bankruptcy and have their debts discharged. Another solution that some Republicans propose is to abolish government-backed student loans since it would force colleges to reduce costs if they wanted to remain marketable.


Most Democrats regard secondary level education as a human right. They believe tuition-free college would foster a more competent workforce, eliminate student loans, and decrease the overall government dependency of many Americans.

In 2014, the Pew Research Center reported that high school graduates only achieved 62% of the earnings that 4-year degree students made. As just 35% of Americans have 4-year degrees or greater, Democrats attribute degree rates and resulting income disparities to student loan programs like FAFSA and the universities that caused them. Additionally, they hold that lower-income families will be more inclined to attend university if tuition is not a financial consideration, meaning more people with advanced degrees and, consequently, more money into the economy. With 1.61 trillion dollars in student loan debts, Biden announced (during his campaign) plans to relieve up to 10,000 dollars per student — some argue that he should forgive all student debt. Democrats maintain that this upcoming round of debt forgiveness will yield an economic benefit for generations to come. Student loan debt can prevent citizens from obtaining future loans for houses and cars, acting as a debilitating strain for the rest of their life. Democrats support government-funded college so Americans can further support our country with advanced degrees, regardless of economic security.

Discussion Questions

  • Should colleges be paid for by tax dollars?
    • If so, how should a student's eligibility be determined?
      • Should all areas of study be subsidized, or only those that are useful to our economy?
    • Would government-funded colleges incentivize schools to hike up tuition fees?
  • Should student loans be incurred by the government
    • If so, to what extent should student loan debt be forgiven?


Murakami, Kery. “Free College Idea Divides Trump and Biden, but Poll Finds Republican Support.”, September 16, 2020.

Reports, S. (2019, September 5). Should public college be free? Pro/Con: Opinion.

Siripurapu, Anshu, and Mia Speier. “Is Rising Student Debt Harming the U.S. Economy?” Council on Foreign Relations, Council on Foreign Relations,

Tran, Jake. “College: The Profitable Business of Enslaving Students.”, November 25, 2020.

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