By Ellie Dessart
At the recent Democratic presidential debate held in Des Moines, Iowa, viewers witnessed the ongoing argument about free college.
In particular, Mayor Pete Buttigieg criticized senators Elizabeth Warren’s and Bernie Sanders’ plans to eliminate student debt and tuition costs for all. While the candidates agreed on the need to increase access to higher education, they remained split over the effect this could have on different economic groups.
“I don’t think subsidizing the children of millionaires and billionaires to pay absolutely zero in tuition at public colleges is the best use of those scarce taxpayer dollars,” Buttigieg argued.
To which Senator Warren replied, “We need a wealth tax in America.”
However, while Warren and Sanders’ proposals for free college tuition are attractive, and Buttigieg brings up warranted objections, there are other issues that are being avoided altogether.
None of these plans solve the issue of rapidly increasing college costs. They fail to place responsibility on colleges and universities to make their programs more affordable. Many schools take on massive infrastructure projects in an effort to attract prospective students, and while amenity upgrades are certainly needed in some cases, excessively overspending on facilities excessively drives up the cost of tuition.
Free-tuition plans would bring even more money into these institutions. According to an article by Kacy C. James, president of The Heritage Foundation, “If more taxpayer dollars [are] funneled to schools with even less discretion than exists today, schools [will] keep raising costs.”
The result would be a disastrous cycle that leads to a strain on the federal budget. Perhaps as part of the plan to expand access to higher education, we should consider adopting incentives that encourage colleges to prioritize affordability.
I asked around to see if some students had anything to say about the college debt dilemma. One of my friends, Grace McSherry, shared her thoughts.
“More oversight is needed over public colleges and universities to regulate capital expenditures and encourage creative cost-cutting,” said McSherry, a Bronxville High School senior. “Instead of funneling more money into student loans, the government should provide subsidies to public institutions that successfully reduce tuition.”
Further, when discussing the unrealistic nature of the debated plans, I asked her if she had any suggestions to make them more practical.
“The focus needs to shift from offering free tuition and loan forgiveness to more meaningful government reforms that require student education about loan requirements and repayment expectations,” she replied.
Perhaps instead of aiming to completely eliminate college tuition and student debt, we can work on figuring out ways to get schools to rein in their costs. In the meantime, we should focus on implementing strategies to foster fiscal responsibility among the many young students who may need help understanding the process.
If we consider these options, maybe we could approach this crisis more pragmatically.
Ellie Dessart is a senior at Bronxville High School. Her monthly column “Inside the Mind of a Teen” examines and addresses the issues pertaining to teenagers at both the local and global level.