According to data provided by Experian PLC, as of 2020 the total student loan debt in the United States was $1.57 trillion. For reference, that’s over eight times the net worth of Jeff Bezos, the richest person on the planet with a net worth of over $192 billion, according to Forbes. That’s an all-time high, and a $160 billion increase from 2019, again according to Experian. And this spectacular rise has once again brought about an age old question: should college and university be free? And the answer to this question is really quite simple: yes.
First off, it is important to recognize why now – more than ever before – it is important to pave the way to free higher education. For one, the average cost of a college degree has risen exponentially in the past few decades, especially in comparison to the overall inflation rate of that time. College tuition and additional fees have risen 1,200% since 1980, while the Consumer Price Index (the change in the price level of average consumer goods and services purchased by households) has risen only 236% – according to Visual Capitalist.
Essentially, the cost of college has out-risen virtually every other cost in America five-fold. And while the median U.S. household income has increased incrementally over the past few years (3.1% in 2016, 1.8% in 2017, 0.9% in 2018, and 6.8% to $68,700 in 2019, according to recent U.S. Census data cited by USA Today) it has simply not been enough for the average American family to realistically be able to send their children off to college without spelling unknown decades of crippling debt.
And while this may sound quixotic to some, shouldn’t higher education in the United States be a means by which to further one’s personal opportunity in life, not just a privilege reserved for the exceedingly wealthy? No, higher education in the United States should not be a privilege, it should be alright. Just as a primary education is to each and every U.S. citizen, so too should higher education.
At the very least, local intuitions that can provide a competent and respectable education should be made accessible to the vast majority of Americans – Americans who aren’t able to afford the ever-rising price of a college degree. So if ever there was a time to push the fight for higher education, it’s now – because even if we as students can’t reap the benefits of free higher education, future generations can.