The political interest group “Free Education” is aimed at establishing free college, community college, and vocational training educational opportunities in the United States. It supports any policy or legislature aimed at promoting educational opportunities and reducing the cost of such for the general public. The major issue is the rising cost of post-secondary education in the United States at all levels. Despite a 25% increase in undergraduate attainment since 1980, college costs have increased by 169% since 1980, 25% in the last decade alone with average annual fees standing at $27,330 for public in-state colleges and $55,800 for private colleges. The annual rise in tuition and fees is between 1.3 and 1.6% currently, lower than inflation, but outpacing any relevant wage growth statistic (Hess, 2021). Similarly, costs at community colleges increased by 37.5% in the last decade. Vocational schools are harder to decipher due to high variation, but average at $33,000, and due to increased popularity is also seeing rising tuition costs (Dillard, 2021).
Most experts note that one of the largest contributors to such rapid rise in costs is associated with two factors. First, colleges have bloated pricing due to the explosive cost of administration, amenities, and the high-tech educational and research opportunities that need to be financed and made available to students. The second is growing demand combined with the consistent cuts from both state and federal funding for higher education. Since the 2008 financial crisis, state funding has not recovered, being as much as over $4,000 less per student than before 2008, with only 9 states having positive net spending per student. The COVID-19 pandemic is likely to exacerbate this even more. There is a direct correlation between state funding and tuition increases (Hess, 2019).
Therefore, one of the more realistic solutions is to increase state and federal funding into education, while establishing regulations that these funds be used for tuition, scholarships, or grants aimed towards reducing attendance costs. A widely supported proposal by the recent Biden administration to make community college free through federal funding has been scrapped at this time. However, economists argue that despite the high initial $109 billion spending bill, the long-term boost to the economy would be at approximately $170 billion annual contribution towards the national GDP, and an additional $66 billion yearly tax revenue (Dillard, 2021). Introducing legislature to continue pushing tuition costs down at all levels of post-secondary education critical as accessibility remains the major issue. Other possible legislation is potentially implementing regulation on fees and optional charges for amenities that students do not use (particularly if virtual learning during the pandemic) and other cost-cutting measures to reduce such inflation of prices.
The political reality is that in the partisan nature of current politics, any wide spending measures that are widely supported by liberal Democrats are viewed as social programs and unjustified spending by Republicans and even some moderates. However, given the nature of the problem, widespread spending in the hundreds of billions is necessary to have any long-term and concrete effect. In the current reality, only potentially small incremental increases to funding have some potential, but still highly unlikely, as Republicans view education as a matter of state rights, and generally opposed higher education funding (Pinsker, 2019). Therefore, funding should stem from the state budgets (unrealistic given budgets are extremely tight currently). The window of opportunity will only appear if Democrats ever take enough majority in the Senate as to bypass the filibuster while also maintaining majority in the House. Given political realities and strong political division in the country, that is unlikely to happen. The agenda setting measures that can be undertaken is finding bipartisan support for any legislation to mitigate the issue, hoping for Republican support. The key is convincing representatives and senators of the positive economic impact of any bills and benefits to big business and the general economy while having minimal impacts on budgetary spending and avoiding the social welfare perception.
Dillard, J. (2021). U.S. misses billions in gains as free community college gets ax. Bloomberg. Web.
Hess, A.J. (2021). College costs have increased by 169% since 1980—but pay for young workers is up by just 19%: Georgetown report. CNBC. Web.
Pinsker, J. (2019). Republicans changed their mind about higher education really quickly. The Atlantic. Web.