June 18, 2019 | 65° F

Students debate over right to free higher education

Photo by Jennifer Kong |

School of Arts and Sciences senior David Reiss argues for federally funded education last night during a debate hosted by the Rutgers University Debate Union in the Busch Campus Center.

In honor of the anniversary of the ratification of the United States Constitution, the Rutgers University Debate Union (RUDU) considered whether the Constitution should be amended to include the right to free higher education last night at the Busch Campus Center.

The parliamentary-style debate featured a government team and an opposition team, with the government team winning the debate with their argument that access to free education would better our society.

“The role of the government is to create a better society for all of us, and college education is something most would want,” said David Reiss, a School of Arts and Sciences senior on the government team.

Reiss said it would be absurd if the government stopped paying for a person’s education up until high school and forced everyone to pay for private school — therefore not paying for students’ higher education is also absurd because it ultimately prevents them from reaching their full potential.

Ashley Novak, treasurer of the debate team and member of the opposition, said the government already struggles to pay for the high school education system, and putting the financial burden of higher education on taxpayers would make matters worse.

“The education system gets worse when you spread the already thin [funds] even thinner,” said Novak, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore.

She also argued that granting free access to higher education for all would drive the value of a college degree down and force people to pay for graduate school to earn degrees to set them apart from their competitors.

“Having a college education is not the only thing that can bring good,” Novak said. “[If we] provide that free right, the value of a degree goes down because others who wouldn’t normally go to college have access.”

But Reiss pointed out that the value of a degree would not change with the amendment, as colleges would not let more people in.

“Unless colleges are admitting more people, more aren’t getting in, and it changes who gets those degrees,” he said. “[Colleges would be] admitting better people who worked hard to get in.”

Co-Tournament Director Bhargavi Sriram, Reiss’ partner on the government side, said it is unfair that people born into a poor family have less access to education because of a lack funds.

“Many don’t get the opportunity for education and others who do can’t afford it and have to juggle jobs during their studies,” said Sriram, a School of Arts and Sciences junior. “We think the government has the obligation to pay for it.”

Reiss said students who accept loans are often influenced into earning a degree that has higher earning potential.

“We think loans are predatory and destroy peoples’ lives,” he said. “I want people to go into unviable careers because they don’t need the money.”

But Novak countered with the notion that a federally regulated higher education system would put emphasis on engineering, business and medicine over the liberal arts.

“If you’re afraid of a world of engineers, lawyers and doctors, you should oppose this resolution,” she said. “[The government] would cut liberal arts first, which diversifies our lives and views.”

After the debate, a panel of faculty members shared their thoughts on the debate and offered points they had not heard mentioned.

Rudolph Bell, a history professor at the University, said the debaters should have considered other nations who do have the right to higher educations for citizens.

“There’s a whole world of nations, and the more civilized ones have free higher education,” he said. “There should have been a national university [in the United States]. There is one for the military, West Point, where education is free if you serve the nation.”

Susan Lawrence, a School of Arts and Sciences dean for Educational Initiatives and the Core Curriculum, said the framers of the U.S. Constitution had little concern for higher education.

“The U.S. Constitution does not guarantee a right to education in any form or on any level,” she said. “The framers were self-educated men. The Constitution is an incredibly boring document, mostly about protocols and procedures. It’s like reading the rules of baseball without watching a game.”

But from her perspective as a dean and a political science professor at the University, Lawrence agrees with the government team.

“In my utopian world, everyone would have the right to pursue advanced study of liberal arts and sciences unfettered by financial concern,” she said.

By Amy Rowe

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