In this edition of Congressional Quarterly the At Issue section posed the question “Should public-college tuition be free?” We were honored to have CQ ask CFCT President and CEO, Morley Winograd, to present the argument in favor of free college tuition. Below is his argument.
YES. It’s a simple fact that our nation’s economic success depends on a highly educated and skilled workforce. In the 20th century, as our growing Industrial Age economy required workers with a high school education, states and communities funded public high schools for both girls and boys to respond to these new demands. Later in the century, Congress enacted the GI Bill of Rights and then the Higher Education Act of 1965 to encourage college enrollment, thereby establishing the educational foundation for our rapidly expanding middle class.
It is only in this century that we have asked a generation — Millennials, born between about 1982 and 2003 — to self-finance the education they need and that our country needs in order to be economically successful. This misguided approach must end before America loses its global competitive edge for good.
Just when a college degree or certificate became a ticket to the middle class, we have made it too expensive for most families to send their kids to college. Since 1973, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “average inflation-adjusted public college tuition has increased by 274 percent while median household income has grown by only 7 percent.” Students and families took out loans to cover the gap, effectively mortgaging their financial future to try to meet the challenge. The resulting rise in student debt levels is a dangerous warning sign that our country is abandoning its historical commitment to education as a key component of the promise of upward economic mobility.
Only free public college tuition has the power to permanently fix this problem. America has always used government resources to provide sufficient funds to those willing and able to acquire the skills and knowledge they need to be successful. While free public college tuition will require a major investment by government, the return on that investment will pay dividends for decades. The W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research found that the Kalamazoo Promise — the nation’s pioneering scholarship program providing a free college education to public high school graduates — has produced a return on investment of 11.3 percent in the first 10 years of its existence.
Now is the time to expand our country’s commitment to free universal public education from primary and secondary education to higher education to ensure we have a skilled workforce capable of competing in the 21st-century economy.
For those interested in also reading the argument against, please see the full Congressional Quarterly article here.
Our goal is to make higher education a possibility for every American, without regard to their financial circumstances.
We have a lot to do and not much time to do it, so your support is critical for our campaign to succeed. It’s with your investment that we can fundamentally reform how higher education is financed in this country, opening the doors to a more equitable society.
If you agree with our goal, our plan, and the urgency of the problem, we ask that you give what you can to help us write the next chapter in our nation’s history of continuously expanding access to universal, free education.