It is important to note that utilitarianism is among a number of ethical frameworks under which moral and ethical decisions can be made. The general concept is primarily tied to the notions of pain and pleasures, where the key incentive is focused on maximizing the amount of the latter. Therefore, the framework implies that ends justify the means, and the feelings of pain and pleasure can vary in their intensity and the number of parties affected. The given assessment will mainly apply the core connotations of utilitarianism to the issue of education cost.
Education has always played a central role in a nation’s prosperity and potential for the future, but it is among the most long-term investments that a society can make alongside issues, such as climate change. Under the current market conditions and educational demands due to a high level of progress, education is becoming costly, which is why individuals willing to pursue a degree are challenged with major financial dilemmas. Some approaches involve capitalistic methods, which mean that a student pays for his or her education to the educational institution itself, whereas, in some cases, the government intervenes with intention of assistance through grants or scholarships. Regardless of how the costs are allocated, the truth is manifested in the fact that education is a costly endeavor, which might or might not justify its returns on investments.
From a utilitarian standpoint, the cost of education can be categorized as pain because these resources could have been allocated to more urgent or immediate concerns, such as healthcare, infrastructure, or welfare. However, the pleasure of education is rooted in the fact that people with education can become more competent drivers of a future economy as the latter is becoming more dependent on creative and intellectual labor rather than a manual one. The current system of allocating educational costs is by transferring them directly to students through loans, which they repay later throughout their careers. However, such an approach heavily impairs potential consumers and the freshly entering labor force financially, which hinders their ability to acquire wealth and become active participants of the economic machine (Britt et al., 2017). In addition, the educational process becomes disrupted with a student’s additional obligations, such as part-time jobs, which they need to cover the living costs.
Another approach is to distribute the costs of education among the entire society through taxes and governmental regulation, which implies that education will be “free” for beneficiaries, but the “pain” element will be given to non-beneficiaries as well. Such a framework minimizes the average “pain” experienced by each individual, but it affects a greater number of people. Since a clear decision cannot be made solely from the element of “pain” intensity and scale, it is also important to factor in “pleasure” or benefits (Scarre, 2020). It is stated that “higher education is also linked with other health benefits, such as having an increased sense of control and learned effectiveness, having more ambition, finding more satisfaction in their jobs, living situations, communities, families, and having more autonomy” (Moran, 2019, p. 1). Therefore, there is a wide range of benefits, which affect the entire society on a multitude of levels.
In conclusion, applying a utilitarian framework of ethical decision-making revealed that the “pain” factor of allocating the costs directly to students or the entire population only changes its degree and intensity, which does not change the total “pain.” However, enabling the younger generation an opportunity to lead healthier and wealthier lives can drive the economy, create growth, reduce inequality, and promote social justice, which are beneficial for the entire society rather than only the top, which means utilitarianism supports a “free” education system.
Britt, S. L., Ammerman, D. A., Barrett, S. F., & Jones, S. (2017). Student loans, financial stress, and college student retention. Journal of Student Financial Aid, 47(1), 24-37. Web.
Moran, J. (2019). The benefits of affordable/free education op ed. Student Scholarship, 1, 1-2. Web.
Scarre, G. (2020). Utilitarianism. Routledge.