HIGHER EDUCATION

Why Americans Can’t Have Free College Tuition

A vocal minority is determined to prevent it, for really weird reasons.

Matthew Thiele
7 min readMar 13, 2023

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Photo by Stanley Morales via Pexels.com

The cultural debate over whether college should be free for all Americans is mostly on pause for now. Since Joe Biden won the nomination for president over Bernie Sanders in 2020, the subject has largely left the national conversation.

That’s a little surprising, since a huge majority of Democrats still favor making college free for everybody, and even when those numbers are combined with Republicans, 63 percent of all Americans are in favor of making college tuition free according to a 2021 report from the Pew Research Center.

In spite of clear public support, especially among Democrats, a majority of Democratic politicians seem to oppose using government money to fully subsidize college tuition. For a long time now, lawmakers have made it their job to make life harder instead of easier for regular people, so we continue to have all of these barriers to success and happiness. They feel no urgency and lack the courage to enact such a sweeping change, and the opponents of free college seem to have won the debate for now despite being in the minority.

It’s still close to my heart. I teach college English, and think about how much easier the lives of my students would be if we could all agree that they shouldn’t have to pay for their college education.

Providing free tuition for public colleges and universities would reduce the influence that money has in decision making and ease pressure on students and workers. It would be far more fair and, more importantly, far less burdensome than the current system of need and merit-based aid.

Understanding Why Some People Oppose Free College Tuition

But lots of people still oppose it. Some of my colleagues, even. I struggle to understand why, but it’s a good idea to try to understand it. To do that, it’s important to listen to the people who oppose free college tuition, even if what they say doesn’t make much sense, and even if understanding this mindset doesn’t necessarily bring us any closer to defeating it.

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Matthew Thiele

Teacher. Satirist. Scholar. Published in Slackjaw, Points in Case, McSweeney’s, Ben Jonson Journal, and elsewhere. Definitely not a robot. Or an alien.