Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Why higher education should be free

This was written by Zander Sherman who is the author of The Curiosity of School.

By Zander Sherman

Classes have barely begun, but the most important lesson of the year may already be here: Higher education should be free. There’s no reason why it shouldn’t, and plenty of reasons why it should.

Here are a few:

1. We should be giving students knowledge, not burdening them with debt

University-aged kids are on the threshold of adulthood and all of the responsibilities that come with it. They need all the help they can get—and that doesn’t include being saddled with debt. Canadian students are $30 billion in arrears. Many will be middle-aged before they repay their loans. Others never will.

Let's get something straight. Jobs exist to make us money. To put yourself in debt in order to get one is not only backward, but crippling. How are graduates supposed to make a life, build a home, have a family? With the anxiety of having to pay back their loan, how they are even supposed to concentrate on work?

2. Knowledge is a basic human right

Like clean air and drinking water, knowledge is essential to life. We can’t get through life without it. We pine for knowledge the way we pine for love and happiness, because it’s hardwired into us, and its absence creates a biological hunger.

To deny that knowledge is a basic human right is to brand it a luxury. And if learning is a luxury, an education is available only to those who can afford it. If only those who can afford an education become educated, most people will be ignorant.

3. Higher ed. should be free because it can be

The biggest myth of higher education is that we need to pay for it. We don’t, and here’s why: Higher education is free in other parts of the world. It’s free in Denmark, Finland, Sweden, and Norway. Before you say that those countries pay for higher education with higher taxes, think again.

Higher education is also free in countries that have no welfare state, like Ecuador, Egypt, and Estonia. If it can be free there, it can be free here too.

4. The good would outweigh the bad

Those who say we can’t afford to have free post-secondary education argue that the cost to society (through taxation) would outweigh the benefit of having more educated labor. Not true at all. Opening university doors to anyone regardless of whether they can afford it or not would double, triple, quadruple enrollment. A better educated populace means a more dynamic economy, and a more dynamic economy means a larger benefit to society.

5. It would end the rich-poor divide

Wealth is what stands between students and the future. Not intelligence, not work ethic, not study hours or memorization skills. Wealth. Rich kids are born rich, go to rich schools, and end up with the kind of credentials that get them well-paying jobs. Poor kids are stuck in the opposite track. They’re born poor, go to poor schools, and either drop out before university or go on to study at an affordable post-secondary school … where they begin collecting debt.

Free higher education would give poor students access to those same prized credentials that lead to rich jobs, and so close the wealth gap.

6. It would also kill credentialism, for-profit universities, and private schools

A degree from Harvard or the Cambridge is worth more than a degree from, let’s say, Canada Christian College. Highbrow schools always justify astronomical tuition by saying they have a tradition of excellence. In fact, the so-called “ancient universities” began very modestly. Harvard was once a puritan stronghold. Cambridge was built in a swamp.

What the most prestigious universities have is a tradition of money. The richest universities in the world see more money in a year than some of the poorest countries in Africa. When you get a degree from these schools, you become entitled to that wealth.

Making higher education free would kill credentialism. It would also kill for-profit universities (why give your money to a diploma mill when you could go to a real school and get one for free?) and take a bite out of private schools (why send your child to an expensive prep school when the advantage falls away as soon as they get to university?).

So there you have it, six reasons why higher education should be free.

Let those who would disagree defend the status quo: a system that impoverishes students before they’re qualified to make enough money to pay off their debt; a system that encourages the rich-poor divide and the culture of credentialism; and a system that treats knowledge as a commodity, not an essential human right.


  1. Excellent post, and this from someone working at a "for profit" Uni that says it not for profit. Another possible positive spin off from making University Education free could be and end to the practice of hiring and poorly paying adjunct instructors described here:

  2. I agree with you greatly. money should not define a persons intelligence, having a free education would lessen the people starving, homeless and educationless. I had a friend that desperately wanted to get into Julliard, and he had the talent to get in, but the amount of money was to much for his mom to handle. julliard just lost one of the greats because education isn't free. i hate how the world now seems to revolve around simply puts limits on human beings. thanks you mr bower for trying to change that.

  3. Thanks for the comment, Keira. I have a feeling your story is not unique and that there are many people who have their education held back because of a lack of money.

    The debt that students incur in order to get an education is something that our society should not be doing to young people who are making the move from childhood to adulthood.

  4. it sould be easier...great class today....for anyone who reads this i hope they know your an amazing teacher.

  5. Higher Education should free or it should be provided in very little amount so that every students can continue his study in order to make is future bright because Education is only the way by which we can make our future good. Van Waters


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