Civil Discourse Op-Ed: Tuition-Free Community College

The Civil Discourse Program, facilitated by Communications professor Mark Urista, is finishing the term strong with their final and beyond relevant op-ed; Should Community College Be Tuition-Free? If education is a fundamental right, then why is it inaccessible to so many people? Would the lack of tuition and need for loans result in higher enrollment? Or is tuition-free education merely a pipe dream? What would that mean for taxes? As it reliably does, The Civil Discourse Program covers every angle.

Community Colleges Should Be Tuition-Free

Authors: Cheyanne Rider, Damoni Wright, Mackenzie Witnauer, and The Civil Discourse Program

Education is something many people believe is a fundamental right. Although there are numerous higher ed options in this country, a lot of people find themselves unable to take advantage of them. Student loan debt is over 1.75 trillion in the United States with over 45 million students taking out loans to pay for college. These numbers deter too many Oregonians from pursuing an education after high school.  This is why Oregon community colleges should be tuition-free.

Removing the burden of tuition to community colleges would greatly increase the accessibility of higher education to all Oregonians. There are already some programs, like the Oregon Promise,  in place that assist current high school students and recent graduates. However, they are not enough. The average annual cost for full-time community college students in Oregon is $6,169, and the average Oregon student loan borrower owes $36,091 by the time they graduate. This is a considerable amount of money for most of us. Coupling the cost with the fact that most community college students are not recent high school graduates and don’t qualify for the Oregon Promise, it’s no wonder that community college enrollment has plummeted in recent years. People come to LBCC and other community colleges to better themselves, further their education, and broaden their employment opportunities. Making these aspirations more accessible is never a bad idea.

It is also worth pointing out that community colleges offer so much more than credits that count toward a degree. For many individuals, there is no better place to explore and try new things than on a college campus.  There are clubs, teams, and people that one may not be exposed to anywhere else. The Civil Discourse Program is a prime example of this. The work we have done in this program has been some of the most fulfilling work most of us have ever done. Bringing people together to have engaging conversations about tough topics provide experiences and skills that all participants can use to improve communication in our local communities. There are also study abroad programs that give students the opportunity to experience other cultures while furthering their academic education. 

Community colleges don’t just offer areas of study for degrees but also vocational training. Many people don’t want to read a bunch of books, write a lot of papers, listen to lengthy class lectures, and take exams.  However, they might be interested in working with their hands, building something valuable, and increasing their capacity to make more money.  CTE programs offer high-demand training tailored for jobs in our local area.

Oregon’s community colleges should be tuition-free for all students. There are many advantages: higher employment rates and earnings, new experiences, and equal opportunities for all.  It is also important to note that community colleges don’t just offer areas of study for degrees but also vocational training for skilled laborers.  Tuition-free community college makes these benefits accessible to all people. 

Community Colleges Should Not Be Tuition-Free

Authors: Eagle Hunt, Eliana Ortega, and The Civil Discourse Program

College is expensive and, in a perfect world, we would love to see unlimited access to higher education. But unfortunately, being responsible dictates that we can’t just do what we like without weighing the pros and cons. Free community college definitely has benefits but it also has costs including higher taxes, cuts to other valuable services, and a diminished educational experience. 

One factor that is easy to overlook when advocating for tuition-free community college is funding. Where would it come from? As of now, the primary sources of funding come from tuition, local property taxes, and state support.  Because tuition is such a significant source of revenue, for it to be “free,” the State of Oregon would need to raise taxes and/or cut other social services to cover the cost. Beyond this, how will we know that any new funding is being put to good use? If college is free, the enrollment rates will surely increase, but just how many of those new students will take classes seriously and graduate? It is likely that there will be a significant number of students who would enroll and drop out because there is no financial penalty for doing so.  Evidence also shows that increased tuition funding will be used to hire more administrators instead of faculty who work directly with students.  These are major problems to be aware of if taxpayers are going to fund the program with our paychecks or make cuts to other valuable services like healthcare, housing, and public safety.

With a large influx of new students, colleges will need to accommodate all of them and demonstrate they are successful. How will they adjust? Anecdotal evidence suggests by offering more online classes that use multiple choice quizzes, recycled Moodle shells, and assignments a student can simply complete with ChatGPT. This will certainly lower the quality of education. While there are benefits to making community college free, such as a more educated population, if the quality of education is lower, it does not truly benefit the students or society. If education is something people want for free, there are plenty of inexpensive online resources available. We do not need to diminish the quality of higher education.

While tuition-free community college seems appealing, we must consider its serious drawbacks. There are many people already struggling to make ends meet. Raising their taxes and reducing the social services they need would only make their lives more difficult. Additionally, many students will no longer have a financial incentive to put in the hard work to pass their classes.  We will also likely see more administrators hired to do bureaucratic work and a greater emphasis placed on simply passing students through the system.  After evaluating the pros and cons, it is evident that “free” community college will do more harm than good.

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