Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders has been talking a lot about the minimum wage and the cost of education in this country. It’s been a subject of course of many democrats. One of the memes that I think ties both together well is the one that shows how many hours in a day you would have to work to pay off yearly tuition at Yale at minimum wage in 19—compared to today.
But I don’t want to talk so much about minimum wage, but rather the cost of education. Bernie Sanders would like to make it free at public institutions. There are many memes mocking this idea, mostly in regards to this being a wild campaign promise that has no chance of coming true. Or questioning where all the money is going to come from. Bernie has a plan for that but I’d like to take the politics out for a second and question why anybody would be opposed to the idea of free tuition at public universities.
Can anybody argue that an educated public is not better than an uneducated one? Regardless of the type of government a public that is educated simply has less chance of becoming oppressed at least long-term than one that is uneducated. In fact we should be worried about a society in which education is become less and less valued, and less accessible to a good portion of the population. The constantly rising price of tuition and the decreasing middle class certainly implies a general decrease in access of education for many families. Sure student loans are an option, but that’s a heavy cost one has to pay going $40,000 or $50,000 in debt puts you behind the 8 ball for sure through most of your young life. My generation (which would be about the age of many the students now) or the previous one never had to start out life that way, so why should it be that way for this generation?
A more educated one is also more civil and less divided. We argue in this country over issues that are non-issues to most other industrial nations. Issues that become politicized which have no need to belong to one party or the other because they are simply something we need to all agree on and do something about. As the public becomes less and less literate on important issues such as climate change, GMO’s, vaccines, environmental conservation divides in viewpoints exist when they should not. Even when viewpoints do differ and educated public will force the debate to be relevant, and compromise is more easily found. A democracy is only successful when everybody participates. But how can people effectively participate when they don’t understand the issues? For many who participate their vote is based less on an understanding the issues over more surface based and emotional reasons.
Look at any country in which all people have equal access to education and you will find a country with less crime, a large middle class, and a productive economy. So why would anybody oppose free university education without seriously looking at how it could be done. It’s not like we don’t have the money but yes it would cause us to put less priority one thing to put the priority on education. It’s simply unclear to me why equal access to education wouldn’t be a primary concern for any nation. Education makes business better, but that does not mean education should be a business. As soon as we turn education into a product we’ve ruined it. This is because like any product, when the quality is high, the cost is also high and few can afford it. People with less money who want that same product end up getting a cheaper version of the product that simply isn’t as good. Most universities do want to keep their quality high, but it leaves them with a choice of raising tuition costs to do so, or lowering standards of enrollment to get more students. After they’ve let more students in who they know will struggle in university they end up inflating grades or lowering expectations so they can appear ethical and that they haven’t just let a bunch of students in only to make money. Anybody who is in academia sees this business model as a terrible way to run education and yet it seems to be the trend. There is no doubt in my mind it will come back to bite us.
So let us not oppose the idea of free college education, let us work together to find a way that it can happen. Other nations are able to provide this to their citizens. Why can we not do the same? It really is to everybody’s benefit.