While K-12 education is free in the USA, paying for higher education is a struggle for most Americans. For those whose household income is not high enough to pay for college immediately, there are several options. They can either start saving money from the child’s early years, take student loans, or work at several jobs while studying. Still, there are people who cannot afford higher education through any of these ways. As Johnson claims, “the rapidly rising rates of college and university tuition is putting higher education, even in our “public” tax-supported institutions, beyond the reach of many in the nation’s middle class” (11). This situation is clamant for the USA, as the country strives to achieve equality. If education is accessible only for those who were lucky to be born in wealthy families, social disparities will persist. The reform of the higher education system might be a step forward for the country as all the society is going to benefit from this.
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It is evident that advancement in the education system leads to rise in the quality of life of society. The question is how making education free of charge at all levels is going to improve its quality. First of all, it will boost competition, which is a driving force for development. American higher education is somewhat competitive today, but it remains unfair as long as finances are one of the criteria. Financial disparity excludes a large number of people from the competition for higher education. According to Bowen, “denying a large part of the population the opportunity for personal development through higher education would be indefensible” (20). Society must see the threat of refusing the opportunity as there is always the chance that the person who has the potential to invent the cure from cancer, for example, may not be able to afford education.
Furthermore, governments, by financing education, acquire the opportunity to manage it and to set demand on the universities. This reform might lead to the fair distribution of students across the spheres and geographical regions according to the need of each of them. The private education sector promotes going for popular programs disregarding national demand, while other areas remain significantly understaffed. Thus, governmental management of higher education can enhance the situation in the job market.
The opponents of free education express their concern about the problem of its implementation. Education, especially if it strives to provide high-quality training, requires significant resource investments. Goksu and Goksu define the financing of higher education as one that “consists of a set of methods to obtain resources needed by higher education institutions in order to maintain their functions” (1154). First of all, a large number of teaching staff should be employed and sufficiently paid. In addition to this, universities should be technically equipped, including sports and residence facilities, information technologies, and scientific laboratories.
Therefore the concept of being “free” for citizens implies that it is financed either by the government or by local communities, such as states. Thus it means that it can be accessible only technically; in fact, education can be financed from taxes that people pay. This is the point where controversy arises, as most people who are not going to get a higher education degree to oppose paying additional taxes for it. Even people who are advocating for the free single-payer healthcare system financed by general tax do not apply the same idea is to education. Unlike medicine, education is a choice, and those who do not choose it do not desire to take part in its sponsorship.
Implementation of a governmentally financed system of higher education, despite being a significant improvement, will require substantial investment, and those who state that it will considerably cost to the tax-payers are not mistaken. Yet, it does not mean that it should not be done even with sacrifices. The primary justification for free higher education is that, despite significant initial investments, the system is going to become self-sustainable. The university graduates, paying the tax from their salaries during their careers, will pay back the expense and take part in financing the currently studying.
Higher education is one of the critical determinants that increase personal income. As Karpio et al. Claim, “education has the greatest positive influence on the differences between the income distributions while being the most discriminatory attribute” (969). That is why the education tax percentage applied to salary should vary depending on the salary level. Thus, those with higher incomes, including the majority of college graduates, will pay most of the education tax. Such a system will protect people without education from the extra expense, but a small amount of tax will remain on them. Even if they do not use free education, they will still benefit from the education reform.
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As it is stated above, the reform in education financing will enhance its quality. Besides, society should view education improvement as the primary objective, which will influence not only those who are getting it but every single citizen. According to Goksu and Goksu, advancement in education contributes to improvements in the socio-cultural structure and economy, which increase the level of service that citizens can enjoy (1152). Better scientific development, enhanced quality of care, and improved leadership in politics will lead to advances in the quality of life of society. Moreover, education reform can balance the current job market situation and provide employment justified by national and state demand.
Educated people are the most valuable human resource of the nation, and they comprise its significant intellectual potential. Qualitative higher education should not be viewed as an instrument for improving life only for those who get it, but as a tremendous economic and political good for the whole society. Educational reform may lead to positive changes, and it is worth paying for living in a better world. Nevertheless, this progress may come at a considerable cost for tax-payers. The politicians who take the initiative of educational reform need to take a number of unpopular decisions, such as tax increase, and they may also face opposition from universities. Nevertheless, free education has the power to transform society from a long-term perspective, improve the quality of life, and combat social disparities.
Paying the tuition fee is unaffordable for many representatives of the middle class, as well as for most of the people below the poverty line. The implementation of free higher education can diminish economic disparities and become the solution to the problem, but it causes severe opposition. Tax-payers who do not pursue higher education degrees are not willing to pay additional taxes. That is why the reform needs several unpopular decisions, which will have a positive effect in the future. The self-sustainability of the system is a matter of time as the graduates will cover the expenses from their salaries. For other citizens, education reform will bring the improvement of their quality of life and promote a better society.
Bowen, Howard. Investment in Learning: The Individual and Social Value of American Higher Education. Routledge, 2018.
Goksu, Alper, and Gonca Gungor Goksu. “A Comparative Analysis of Higher Education Financing in Different Countries.” Procedia Economics and Finance, vol. 26, 2015, pp. 1152–1158., Web.
Johnson, Daniel M. “Tuition Crisis: The Costs and Financing of Public Higher Education.” The Uncertain Future of American Public Higher Education, 2018, pp. 11–25., Web.
Carpio, K., et al. “The Quantile Decomposition of Personal Income Distributions in the USA.” Acta Physica Polonica A, vol. 129, no. 5, 2016, pp. 965-970., Web.