Why College Should be Tuition-Free

Posted by Maica Pichler on February 18, 2016 at 9:00 AM

Two of our nation’s most elite universities – Harvard and Stanford –have garnered recent media attention as they take steps to use their massive endowments to make college tuition free for most students.  While these efforts to provide free tuition are praiseworthy, this ought to be the rule for all post-secondary education, from welding school to MIT. 


Post-secondary education ought to be completely free for the exact same reason that elementary and secondary education have long been free--because a functioning democracy demands an informed citizenry and because a highly competitive world economy requires that we make the best possible use of our brainpower, our most important natural resource.  

I remember the story, in the early stages of the war in Iraq, about a young woman soldier from West Virginia who was injured, then captured by the Iraqis, but who was ultimately rescued by her comrades. To me, the most significant part of that story was the young woman’s account of why she joined the Army. She had no desire to be a soldier, she said, but joined the Army in order to get the education benefits necessary for her to go to college so that she could fulfill her real ambition-to become a teacher. To me, that was the most important part of her story – that she had to risk her life and almost lose it in order to get the money to pay for a college education. 

Making college tuition free will not break the bank.  As Bryce Covert, Economic Policy Editor for Think Progress, recently noted, “tuition at all public colleges came to $62.6 billion in 2012. The federal government could take the $69 billion it currently spends helping students cover the cost of college through grants, tax breaks, and work-study funds and instead simply cover tuition at public colleges for anyone who wanted to attend." That would give all students  an affordable option and it would also put pressure on private colleges to reduce their tuition. We could find a formula for a fair way of also helping students at private colleges to pay tuition. I am confident that we can find  a means of paying  for college tuition without increasing the federal deficit.

As we begin the process of electing a new president, it is time to think big. It is time to make college tuition free!   

Bill Brodhead is a former Democratic Congressman from Michigan and a strong supporter of our Campaign for Free College Tuition. You can find his endorsement statement here.

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The Campaign for Free College Tuition is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization established in the State of Washington in 2014 to educate parents, students, the higher education community, policy makers and taxpayers about efforts needed to fundamentally reform our nation’s system for financing higher education. This website and CFCT’s educational outreach activities are made possible through generous individual and foundation support.