Free college tuition is a fundamentally bad idea

Each week, The Beacon’s editorial board will take a stance on a current issue.

Think about it: What is one of America’s strongest attributes? Freedom.

But just because the word “free” is there, doesn’t mean everything should be free. One of the core principles in our American society is incentives.

What gets you to wake up in the morning? Incentives. defines an incentive as “something that incites or tends to incite to action or greater effort, as a reward offered for increased productivity.”

With free tuition at colleges, the idea behind working hard to support educational expenses is gone. On the surface, life without these expenses might seem great.

However, it is important to consider the Ten Principles of Economics, written by Dr. Gregory Mankiw, professor of economics at Harvard University. One would simply have to look at two of the 10 principles to apply to this scenario: No. 1 People face tradeoffs (There is no such thing as a free lunch) and No. 4 People respond to incentives.

Proponents for free college education argue that some of the successes from the American public school system will carry on into the postsecondary world.

We’re not looking at the political motivations behind the debate of free college. Rather, we’re looking to emphasize the principle of earning what is rewarded.

With increased focus on the rising cost of tuition and similar fees at post-secondary institutions, it is important to consider the negative impacts on attempting to offer college for free.

Offering free college, regardless of the financial implications and burden on our government, is fundamentally wrong.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, financial aid can be broken down into five categories: scholarships and grants, work-study, federal student loans, loans from your state government or your college, and private loans.

The department offers this explanation on their website relative to “what to keep in mind” relative to work-study: “You don’t have to pay the money back, but you do have to work for it, so take into account that that’ll mean less time for studying. However, research has shown that students who work part-time jobs manage their time better than those who don’t!”

A part-time job is a great way to learn how to balance life, as well the idea of working to earn money.

In the latest data available from the National Center for Education Statistics, more than 72 percent of undergraduate students received some form of financial aid.

Just over five percent of undergraduate students received any form of work-study, but just over 63 percent of those same students received grants, the study found.

While we applaud and encourage students who apply for and receive financial aid, the work-study percentage is absolutely embarrassing. Our government and educational institutions should not be focused on simply giving money away.

What is even more embarrassing is that less than 16 percent of full-time undergraduate students, with a family income of less than $20,000 annually, received work-study funds, but yet over 95 percent of that same category received grants, according to the study. The study defined grants as including grants, scholarships, or tuition waivers from federal, state, institutional, or private sources, including employers.

Gee, not much incentivizing going on there, huh?

With access to post-secondary education being a hot issue, the focus should be on work-study programs.

However, grants are still necessary to ensure access to all institutions, including American private universities like Wilkes. This isn’t to suggest that grants should be eliminated. Rather, with access to post-secondary education being a hot issue, the focus should be on work-study programs.

One thing that should also be clarified is grants should not be in the same conversation as the term “handouts.” Students do still partially earn grants, scholarships and tuition waivers alike through accolades during high school, but not to the extent of work-study awards earned through working.