Free Education: A Popular Topic of Presidential Race

With the release of Bernie Sanders’ free education plan the topic of free higher education has become one of the most discussed topics of the race for the White House in 2016.

According to Sanders’ website, berniesanders.com, the plan starts by making tuition free at public colleges and universities. One thing regarding this is if Sanders were to be elected president and his plan were to pass through congress, Monmouth University would not be free.

Right now, according to Sanders’ website graduates are forced to pay five to seven percent on their loans, when an average car loan is 2.5 percent. According to the Monmouth University website a current student is paying $33,028 for tuition.  If they are taking loans, with interest it might cost them an extra $2,312 annually. This could be an extra $9,249 over four years.  If a rate like Sanders purposes was in effect,  that number might drop to, roughly $3,302, saving a typical Monmouth student $6,000 in interest.

Another thing Sanders would execute in his plan is increasing federal work study. He would increase it almost three times of what it is now. Federal Work Study is a plan that services lower income students based on their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA) that allows students to work on campus jobs and has universities only pay a portion of the wage, and the federal government covers the rest.

Hilary Clinton, currently is the democratic front-runner, also has a plan in order to make higher education more affordable, the New College Compact. Her plan does not take the full cost out of college education.

According to Clinton’s website, hilaryclinton.com, she is proposing that no student should have to borrow money for books, tuition, and any other fee associated with higher education.

In the New College Compact, Clinton also proposes the students will work ten hours a week in order to help finance their college education. Also the federal government will help to fund more universities.

John Henning, Dean of the School of Education at Monmouth University, feels education should be a national priority. Henning said, “In a global economy that is highly competitive, where knowledge is king your human resources are the best thing this country has, so if we have a significant amount of our population not having the opportunity (education) it actually hurts everyone.”

Not educating everyone adds to why this has become a political issue. Patrick Murray, the Director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, explains why the issue resonates with voters. “Bernie Sanders coming out with this education policy is understanding that this an issue which voters will react to and It is not just young voters, its older voters as well who are sending their kids to college and are worried about college costs,” said Murray.

Communication Professor Don Swanson’s experience includes teaching during a time when education was free. “For example, when I taught in the California State University system in the early 1980s there was no tuition for junior colleges and almost no tuition for state universities.  It worked very well.  Of course Governor Ronald Reagan pushed to charge tuition, which became a necessity as tax cuts reduced state revenue, and today tuition is so high that many young people find it hard to afford state universities,” Swanson said.

Will this issue affect Monmouth University? According to Swanson it will not. Free Educations will probably have “very limited effect in the short term because students usually come to MU for the unique higher quality experience of this private university learning environment,” said Swanson.

Students seem to have a strong opinion on this issue also. Michael Hough, a senior finance major, feels free education would hurt the value of a degree. “If we were to switch to free secondary education system, a college degree would simply provide the same competitive advantage as a high school diploma,” he said.

 The office of Financial Aid at Monmouth University was approached for comment on this issue but declined citing that The Director of Financial Aid who normally handles media request’s was not in the office.

If universities and colleges were to become free Dean Henning explains that there would still be distinguishing factors between universities and colleges. Henning said, “I think you still have your elite universities, your mid-tier, and there would still be competition between the best ones.”

Professor Swanson was asked if free higher education were to become a reality, how would college education change, Swanson responded, “Good question, the results will depend on how it (the program) is done.”