You Say Free Like It’s A Bad Thing

By now I’m sure many of you have heard of New York State’s motion to grant free state and city college education for those making under certain incomes. I’m already hearing yelling on both sides of the aisle on this issue. Amidst the endless complaints that is political discourse and conversation I thought I’d share just a bit of my two cents on this issue.

I went to college in New York City and actually did the opposite that many college students do: I transferred from a private college to a public college. Not only did I decide the price was astronomically unnecessary, but I thought I could get a comparable education at a college far cheaper. I was told as a kid that a college is a college, you’ll receive the education you want if you put yourself into it. Luckily, those people were right.

I never looked back at my transfers for my undergraduate degree or graduate school. The education I received will stick with me for the rest of my life and helped push me into being the person I am today.

The idea that city and state colleges should be free is not a new concept. CUNY was free until the 1970s when New York City was nearly broke. And before you blame their bankruptcy on that I ask you to look up your history. I’ve also been a big proponent that these types of colleges should be free since they help harness of a sense of community where the school is, gives pride to not just the students of where they go to school, but to the state/city where their students flourish and succeed. Imagine being able to say a student helped cure a disease and it’s because they went to a college in your own state! Just imagine that pride.

There are two heavy clouds above this idea, though, one many of us already – the cost – and one some of us don’t necessarily know the extent of its damage.

1. Let’s be real. When I use the term “free” I don’t actually mean free. Nothing in this world is free – all my economics majors know what an opportunity cost is, and I’m sure all of us have heard the term “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” If we are serious about wanting to provide free higher education there are costs to which we must associate these to.

  • Will we raise taxes slightly on those more affluent to adjust for this new cost?
    • In a society where we wish all individuals to benefit, this would be ideal, because when more of us succeed the country succeeds as a whole, and therefore puts more money in the pockets of those who are already wealthy. This investment pays off for them in the end.
  • Will we work to revamp our crumbling education system?
    • Let’s face it: the education system we have now in this country is a joke. Why? Because it teaches nothing and forces you to memorize everything. What does that mean, though? Doesn’t memorization help with educating and learning a subject? Of course it does, but when we’re focused on memorizing information for a standardized test which is what most schools base on success than we’ve failed our students.
      • Take this from me as a former teacher. You’re given a classroom of your own, a group of students whose minds you can shape, but when you meet with your administration they explain what needs to be covered by a certain date in order to make sure they’re “caught up” to a spot in the curriculum their state test requires them to be. Never mind the important aspects of education a student should know: grammar, history and how and why it has shaped where our world is today, budget creation, taxes – just to name a few.
    • Until we face this major issue, we can provide free college to every student in the country and it won’t mean a thing until we handle what is considered education in a classroom and those left behind due to living in impoverished areas.

So I commend you, Mr. Governor, for opening the dialogue towards what is both an obvious solution to companies being unable to fill positions due to lack of qualified candidates, and a very difficult question we must answer on how we educate our students now and make them prepared for higher education.

Progress begins one step at a time. Sometimes it’s a one step forward, two steps back kind of thing, but ultimately progress wins as long as we never give up on making this world a better place.

Join us.

– RA

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