Opinion: The Downsides and Upsides of Tuition-Free College

By: Ariana Moreno
OwlFeed Journalist

Free College? You mean I’ll be able to actually go to college for FREE?!


College tuition isn’t exactly cheap, unless you’re loaded with cash but even then that’s not a high percentage of the population. On average, tuition is roughly near $10,000 and that’s just for in-state! There are even families that earn nearly 100,000 per year or more that still can’t afford nearly 60% of colleges.

What if college became financially accessible for everyone?

As of last year, (based on his previous proposal) New York Governor Andrew Cuomo built together a tuition free program called “The Excelsior Scholarship”.

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Photo courtesy of CNBC

Sadly, this only applies to New York residents. This significantly affects 940,000 middle-class families as well as individuals that earn up to $125,000 per year qualify to attend college tuition-free at all CUNY and SUNY two- and four-year colleges in New York State.

That sounds great right? Even I myself would be more than willing to hop on the wagon if my college tuition become free of charge. However, I feel that there is a flaw with this vision. Unfortunately, I feel that making college free and accessible to low and middle class citizens would not be the best thing for the economy or the school. Here’s why…

(BUT,  let me remind you that colleges and universities spend over $5 BILLION)


  • Staff Salaries: If students were free of tuition charges, how would the school be able to afford its professors? According to The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary of a University Professor was $58,830 in 2008, which means that they earn more than what was reported ten years ago. If students aren’t paying tuition then how can the college afford their staff with all the other expenses just to keep the college up and running?



  • Academics/Athletic Spending: Students pay on average about ten thousand dollars possibly more or less on their tuition, yet most of the money isn’t sent towards their education. For example, depending on the university, “students on average paid over $3,800 more on their own education in 2012 than 2002 (Forbes)” but for most of these students this doesn’t benefit them and they wouldn’t even know.



  • Students That Do Not Graduate:  Hopefully most students DO take advantage of a tuition free based plan, but there are students who drop out during their first years that end up hurting and costing the state to lose roughly $1.3 billion and the federal government $300 million every year! (The High Cost of Low Graduation Rates: How Much Does Dropping Out of College Really Cost?). States, as well as tax payers, would in sense be paying for students that they believe would have enough sense to be responsible and earn their education tuition free only to drop out. I feel that the dropout rate would increase if college tuition becomes free to the whole nation. Students wouldn’t feel as much of an obligation to continue their education as they would if the money was coming out of their own pocket, in turn resulting in an increase in college dropouts. According to Gallup, only half of U.S. alumni strongly agree their education was worth the cost.


Unfortunately, I feel that the only upsides to this would be:


  • A Decrease in International Debt: Since the cost of living is so high , it’s easy for a college student to have the desire to take out student loans. As of 2017, the average amount of debt carried by students is $37,000 in the United States (YaleGlobal).


In New York, under the The Excelsior Scholarship, it was stated by private colleges and universities from within the state that they had “experienced a steep drop in enrollment compared to one year earlier”, the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities reported. It was also stated that it was implied by them that the free tuition was at least partly to blame.

Yes, if tuition was free of charge to everyone everywhere, more people would be educated. But, who is to say that students would actually take advantage of this opportunity or even put their education to good use? What if tuition became free and others still choose to take other routes because it’s still easier than studying for years and becoming a doctor?

This national debate can be an ongoing topic, it’s definitely a big step the government would have to take in order for this to become a reality for all the people.