EDITORIAL: Free community college raises questions
There may be better ways to address issue of education inequality
During his campaign for governor, Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) made multiple promises with regard to properly investing in and funding education in the Garden State, which are reflected in the Fiscal Year 2019 Budget. Among the points of discussion around education was the idea of working toward providing free tuition at New Jersey’s community colleges on the basis that education is a right, not a privilege. A proposal like this is heartening on the face, as equal opportunity for education across the board is important. That being said, it comes with multiple questions — the first of which for many will be: How much will this cost?
Murphy’s budget for 2019 totals at $37.4 billion and expects a surplus of $743 million. According to a report by the Campaign for Free College Tuition, if all community colleges in New Jersey were to become free for entering students, there would be a total loss of $197,500,000 in tuition revenue. The projected surplus, it can be assumed, could help cover that cost. But even if the funding is accounted for, is free community college for everyone in New Jersey necessary? And putting money aside, is it even feasible?
Of course, those in need of assistance with paying for their education should get it — finances should never act as a roadblock for a student yearning for a degree. But state and federal aid are offered to students who need financial assistance to attend community college, such as help from the Educational Opportunity Fund program, the Pell Grant and the Tuition Aid Grant. It does not seem all that unreasonable or non-egalitarian to simply expand those programs, rather than allocate a large sum from our budget’s surplus to make community college entirely free for everyone — even those who could otherwise afford it. That sum could seemingly be better spent allocated to other areas — specifically other areas within New Jersey’s education system — that need help, considering the K-12 system is in relatively bad shape.
College education, as many know, is now more important than ever. Those who graduate from college on average earn significantly more money over their lifetime than their counterparts. So that being said, making sure everyone has equal access to such an education is extremely important. But it is not far-fetched to play with the idea that maybe our society’s dependence on the seemingly ever-more-expensive college education is actually the problem. Leaving out fields that often require a bachelor’s degree, such as STEM and law, it is interesting to think about what the country would look like if more incentive were offered to employers to train their employees on the job rather than expect to hire fully-prepared (and in-debt) students right out of college.
In the end, college education is indeed priceless. One learns arguably more in college than they do in all the years prior to it. Leaving aside the possible consequences and changes that could occur, there are undoubtedly far worse ideas than free higher education for anyone who wants or needs it — especially if we have the money to make it possible. In 1776, John Adams wrote Thoughts on Government, in which he said, “Laws for the liberal education of youth, especially of the lower class of people, are so extremely wise and useful, that, to a humane and generous mind, no expense for this purpose would be thought extravagant.” This statement holds true today in the discussion of educational equity, as education is the foundation for a prosperous, free-thinking and healthy society.
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