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Dueling Views

Presidential Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders has centered his campaign around the idea of free higher education for all American students. He has drafted legislation that would create a tax on financial transactions to provide two-thirds of the funding. Do you support this legislation, or the idea of universal free tuition?

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JamiePresidential Democrat candidate Bernie Sanders, is proposing a new layer in our society’s system: free college education. For his campaign, Sanders created the “College For All Act”, a bill making all four-year public colleges and universities tuition-free.  His argument for free education stated, “in a global economy, when our young people are competing with workers from around the world, we have got to have the best educated workforce possible. And, that means that we have got to make college affordable.”

How could an American college student paying a huge sum of money a year, not comply with the words and prospective actions of Bernie Sanders? Although, if you take a moment to play devil’s advocate, there is more under the surface than his fluffy statement ‘free education for all’.

In the legislation, it would take $70 billion to achieve Sander’s action- two thirds would come from the Federal Government (67%), while the other third would come from the States (33%). This would replace what students and families pay now for a higher education. So what is the catch? The $70 billion is twice as much as what the government already spends on Pell Grants assisting those who cannot afford a higher education, while also providing and ultimately taxing those who can pay tuition. The offset would happen in Wall Street’s transactions through investment houses, hedge funds and other speculators.

By spreading our government resources and taxpayers money thin, it will decrease the quality of education with an overcapacity in higher education. In my research, I have not seen a single cent allocated to improving the output in the quality of America’s education system, only the inputs. Free education encourages more accessibility, but a less excellent system. The problem in our education system lies in the quality, not the quantity of those receiving it.

The decentralized system now allows student to use their federal student aid to attend an institution of their choosing that encourages a wide variety of public and private programs. However, if public education becomes free, private institutions, such as Sierra Nevada College, will all be obsolete. That is the beauty of our education system; its nature allows many options aside from the norm of public education. Liberal Art institutions that offer another option for education, such as the one we all pay for, will not survive if higher education is free. There will be no diversity in prospective student’s options.

America’s education system is in desperate need of improvement. It is the foundation of our country. I agree with Bernie Sander’s, we must be able to keep up with the rest of world and education is our only hope. Although I do not believe that a ‘free education’ is the answer. There must be a compromise between the skewed system we have now, and Bernie’s proposed system. Yes, we need to invest in our education, although systematically. I agree we need to tax citizens more to provide a healthy Education System, and the proposed education act and $70 billion it will produce can be used differently.  Why don’t we reduce the over inflated cost of college to a price that still allows for diversity and competition and spend our money and time on a more aggressive financial aid that supports all students? We need to invest our money in the quality of our education, beginning with our teachers and the public school systems.

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Journalists_00001There seem to be any number of reasons to shut down the idea of free public higher education in the United States. The American rhetoric centers, after all, around rugged individualism. Why, when many of our parents and grandparents went through college, they paid it off with the earnings from a part-time job.

But Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has staked his campaign on free tuition for all, an idea that has received much criticism, with many conservative critics fearing jacked up tax rates and an “entitled” younger generation. Denunciation has also come from within the educational establishment itself. UC Berkeley’s Carol Christ, the director of the Center for Studies in Higher Education, published a blog post on the Berkeley Blog last year claiming that the top 35 percent of high-income attendees would receive the bulk of the benefit, allowing them to forego tuition payments.

“Variable pricing is the right principle,” said Christ. “From each according to his ability; to each according to his need.”

Christ instead suggests investment in community colleges and K-12 education, to prepare low to middle-income children for the rigors of college, where she purports plenty of free money is available.

But the numbers simply don’t add up. Adjusting for inflation, the cost of tuition at a public 4-year university or college has increased by 259 percent since 1971, and the majority of that price increase has occurred since 2001, with a 78 percent increase during the past 15 years.

To put that in perspective, median income for women has only seen a 77 percent increase since 1971, when adjusted for inflation. That means that your average college tuition dollar has less than a quarter of the buying power it held in the early 70s. For men, median income has seen a real decrease of 3 percent over this same time period, meaning that it’s harder than ever for males to afford a college education.

The fact is, the grand majority of Americans cannot afford to attend college without amassing large quantities of debt right at the beginning of their adult lives. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average debt load students leave a 4-year university with is approximately $33,000. Alarming, considering just 12 years ago the total U.S. student loan debt was one-third of its current $1.2 trillion.

This disproportionately affects how young adults are able to establish themselves in society. The Harvard University Joint Center for Housing found that homeownership for adults between 25 and 34 years of age has dropped eight percentage points during the last 10 years. Many are unable to start businesses, and the trend has also affected marriage rates, with a 12 percent decrease from the previous generation.

Many, including Berkeley’s Christ, argue that the cycle of increased tuition and increased aid is the way to go. There is a very clear business initiative for this practice. Federal and commercial aid and loans exist to subsidize university departments and programs at the expense of the student and taxpayer. Private colleges create a competitive market wherein public universities can increase tuition costs to match and still receive funding.

The result is our current situation, where higher education is not affordable to the grand majority, and large pockets become larger as interest rates, total loan amounts and dependency increase.

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Dueling Views