Fork Estate: Debating the cost of college

Two opinion columnists take their debate to the podcast desk

As the cost of college is increasing, whether or not these price hikes are justified is a point of contention. 

A study conducted by the National Institute for Education Statistics revealed that the average cost of a four-year institution (both private and public) totaled to around $26,593. With such a hefty price tag on education, students have to scramble through applying for scholarships, financial aid, working multiple jobs and obviously, taking out loans. 

According to a 2019 report by Forbes, student loan debt is a major crisis, hitting a high of $1.5 trillion in the United States alone. 

This begs the question — should the United States follow the model of other countries with free college? Is it even possible to have free college across the United States? 

In this episode of Forks Estate, two State Press opinion columnists, Alexia Isais and Kellen Moore, discuss wealth inequality, student debt in the U.S. and education systems in other countries. 


Farah Eltohamy:  Hello everyone, my name is Farah Eltohamy and I am the podcast editor here at The State Press. With me are two opinion columnists, Alexia Isais and Kellen Moore, who’ll both be debating over the topic of free college in the U.S. 

Alexia will be arguing for free college while Kellen will be arguing against. 

The format goes as follows: Each speaker will have two and a half minutes to make the case for their argument. Then they will be given a five minute period to go more in depth and dissect each other’s points. And then, both sides will be given 30 seconds to make their closing statements.

With all of that being said, we have Alexia going first. 

Alexia Isais: I'm starting off with the arguments that are for a free college and making the case for universal free tuition for all. My first argument is that for here, especially in the United States, we live in one of the richest countries in the world, if not the richest country in the world, and things such as tuition, healthcare, things that can easily have money allocated to them is something that should be put in perspective. 

We should think outside of just regular funding towards these programs, but also be thinking, what can we do to make these things better and to make the condition of people better in general, especially like poor and working class people? 

We're the richest country in the world and I think because of that fact, we can easily allocate as much money as we need to have this resource available for everyone. 

An education is so fundamental. It's how people move up in society, and I think if we believe in those so-called American values of moving up in society and if we believe in that social mobility, then we should believe in free college, because I think that's the first step. If you want to address any inequality, if you want to address the growing issue of poverty and if you wanna make sure, "Hey, I want to make sure that generations after me are assured this education," and  it would still of course be something that is methodically planned out. 

If you want to go to college, you can; you don't have to. It's not going to be, in my vision of it, it's not like you're forced to go to school. It's just you can go to school if you want to go to school and move up in society as much as you can. And to me, really free education is the bare minimum because there's a whole system I think that's corrupt, and I think one of the first things to address a really corrupt system is going towards the regeneration of people who keep coming as a result of that system. And that's through education.  

Farah Eltohamy: Thank you Alexia. Now moving onto Kellen...and your timer starts now.

Kellen Moore: I do believe that free college is well intended, but without completely changing our current system, I'm just not sure if it is feasible right now. I also kind of have a problem with that. In the research I've done, it seems like it mostly only helps people in the upper class. If you look at percent of people who hold debt, in the highest quartile they take up 34 percent of debt while the lowest quartile only owes about 12 percent. I think that when it comes to free tuition, we often think of a narrative of poor middle class people owing like a hundred plus K in debt. But usually the people who are taking on higher amounts of debt are in the upper class and also have pursued graduate degrees and usually are very much able to afford to take on that debt and pay it off later.


In fact, only 28 percent of student debt is actually held by people with bachelor degrees while 48 [percent] are held by people with graduate degrees. And I also think if this was implemented, it would also require a radical change in our system that I don't think that schools are going to be prepared for. For example, people taking advantage of withdrawals. There's an incentive right now to make sure that you don't take a withdrawal because if you do, you're going to end up having to pay for that later, ideally. 

I think that on the issue of people double majoring — taking advantage of withdrawing, how long they're gonna go to school...I've heard the price tags on free tuition, but when it's actually implemented, is it going to be a lot more unaffordable because of people potentially taking advantage of it?

I also think that if you look at countries like Germany, they have entirely different systems. Even though they have free college, they're much more selective of who they let in and they put people on a track from fourth grade. I think that there are other ways to make sure college is affordable, like more funding the FAFSA and other alternatives to make sure that poor people are getting the education that they need and the funding that they need while also making sure rich people have to pay. 

Farah Eltohamy:  And now we move on to the portion where we have five minutes the both of you discussing each other's points, and debating over what you disagree with. 

Alexia Isais:  The first thing I wanted to address is when you bring up rich people having to continue to pay for their education, that's an important point to bring up. But the thing with universal free education is that it's more so something that's for everyone. Even though someone is rich for example, they would still be able to [afford college]. 

But I think taking into account like how we would implement this policy of free college is looking at how much we would be taxing billionaires and millionaires. People in the upper one percentile and stuff like that. And I think their buying power, if they were taxed enough, would dramatically decrease. And there, the market price for that would in a way be leveled out in a more equal playing field and it wouldn't completely equal out, but it would be much more like, "I'm sort of at the same level as like poor and working class people."

And really it is about sort of looking at how much we would be taking from these rich people. Because right now, how we tax people is based not really on the fact that we have this really widening gap of wealth inequality. And I think what should also be taken into account too is that the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, and because of that, there's a sacrifice that I think needs to be made on the part of people who have money, to give back. Like that's a lot of the money that they make. It's money that they take from their workers.

For example, if they're a really rich employer and they have a family, they want to send their child off to Harvard. But if you look at that and you imagine they have all this money and they have all this money because people are working for them, it's like, working class people and poor people deserve it more in that sense.  

Kellen Moore: No, I totally agree. I think, if I take a look at my ideal education system and the affordability, I'd probably put it in a way that lower class people or people who really can't afford it would have most, if not all, of their education paid for. Middle class would pay, ideally too, as much as they could afford, while rich people would pay for the full amount. 

I think my biggest concern is looking at countries that have implemented universal college or free college tend to be a little more selective, like I was saying with Germany, but also even with Cuba. I was looking up that higher education from 2010 to 2015 dropped from almost a million to under 600,000 because of unnecessary cuts that they (Cuba) had in education and because of the economy for their situation. I think that's my biggest worry. I do want to make sure that students are going to college and that the money should not be a factor in and them not pursuing a degree, but at the same time universal free college might not be that solution.  

Alexia Isais:  I want to bring up that Cuba point again because I think that's a really good case study just because Cuba is in such an important position, they are a part of the Global South. They have had to face imperialism for a really, really long time. Also, I believe there's still economic sanctions being put against Cuba and despite that, they are still able to have a pretty decent education system — actually, the best education system in Latin America, which if you take that into perspective, it's like, wow. That's a pretty much a really great achievement. And I think a lot of that is to be credited to their free tuition program

And I think with the circumstances would be a lot more different here in the United States. Again, we don't have any sanctions against us right now by a higher economic power, and we have more of that option to have these things like free tuition. So the fact that a country like Cuba can still accomplish something like that and the U.S. not having not even taken that first step, I think looking at that parallel is...I think it should be taken into perspective just how much can be accomplished with free education. 

Kellen Moore: Because I brought it up before, but the potential of people taking advantage of [free college]. Maybe people who are double or triple majoring or going to school constantly or taking a long time to get their degree. Do you think that that could potentially be abused in the American system if it was implemented now without change?  


Alexia Isais: I think if you look back, that argument can be put towards welfare programs. There's the argument that if you give people free food with food stamps, they're gonna take advantage of that. They're going to get too much food, they're going to get junk food. And I think that's looking a bit too much into the what if's instead of seeing like, "All right, let's try this and let's see how it works because other countries have done it." 

And that's not necessarily been the case where there's this huge influx of people just randomly getting masters degrees and not finishing or just taking advantage of it. It's more so like, how are the poor people operating now that they have these resources that they didn't have before?

Farah Eltohamy: Moving onto closing statements, Kellen you can go first this time.

Kellen Moore:  I do think we do have a great education system. I think my biggest worry though would be looking at the countries that have implemented free college like Germany, for example. My biggest worry is college becoming very selective or people predetermining your route without you deciding. I think a system where we can build upon the programs we have now can keep people's choices and not predestination by certain governments while also making sure that they can go to school too for cheap. 


Farah Eltohamy: And Alexia?

Alexia Isais:  I just want to close with, I fundamentally believe in free college and free healthcare and stuff like that. That's all stuff that is incredibly important, and again, it's more so like a human right. There's certain things that we're spending on right now in U.S. that shouldn't be spent on as much, like the military budget. And I think, for example, if we were to spend more on our education, invest more in our children, that we could have a good future and we could see a lot better things coming out from the U.S.

Farah Eltohamy:  Well, I think that went really well. Thank you both for coming onto the podcast and having a respectful discussion.  

And for The State Press, I'm Farah Eltohamy. 


Reach the reporter at feltoham@asu.edu or follow @farahelto on Twitter. 


 Reach the columnist(s) at amisais@asu.edu and knmoore6@asu.edu or follow @comradealexia and  @Kellenmoore23  on Twitter. 

 Like State Press on Facebook and follow @statepress on Twitter. 


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