of Academics in Support of Free Higher Education
if education were available, for all students meeting admissions criteria,
as a right, without tuition at any public college in the United States?
A college education is increasingly a prerequisite for opportunities for
effective labor force participation. Yet, paying for higher education is
one of the greatest financial burdens that face most people in this country.
Shouldn't the society, therefore, have an obligation to provide universal
access to pursuit of such an essential social good?
Increasingly, college attendance for all except the wealthy has become contingent
on qualification for interest-carrying student loans. This filters out many
potential students who either cannot afford the encumbrance of loan-indebtedness
or cannot qualify for loans. Many students are prevented from completing
degree programs because they exhaust the sums for which they qualify before
satisfying their requirements. Still more take much longer to complete their
courses of study than they would otherwise because they have to take off
time to work to pay for tuition and other expenses not covered by loans.
Many of those who are able to complete their education begin their work
lives burdened by a massive debt that affects their career decisions and
life choices for years to come.
We believe that the prohibitive cost of education severely limits democratic
participation in economic and political processes in the U.S and results
in a tragic loss of diverse human potential.
The goal of universal access to higher education is neither pie-in-the-sky
nor even entirely unprecedented in recent American history. The most dramatic
example of this goal in the United States was the G. I. Bill of Rights,
under which a generation of World War II veterans received what was usually
full tuition support and stipends to attend post-secondary educational institutions.
A 1988 report by a congressional subcommittee on education and health estimated
that 40 per cent of those who attended college under the G. I. Bill would
not otherwise have done so. That report also found that each dollar spent
educating that 40 per cent alone produced a $6.90 return (more than $267
billion in 1994 dollars) in national output due to extra education and increased
Federal tax revenues from the extra income the beneficiaries earned.
The G.I. Bill had positive ramifications for the country as a whole. Not
only did the direct beneficiaries realize increased income, occupational
and employment opportunities and personal growth; these benefits also made
for greater opportunities for their children and families. The expansion
in enrollments in the postwar era also fueled expansion of colleges and
universities, which in turn stimulated construction and other employment
opportunities including faculties and staff and support services. It also
dramatically democratized college and university life, in composition of
student bodies and faculties, and in expanding the intellectual life of
Similarly, the free tuition policy in effect in the City University of New
York system until the 1970s also brought higher education within reach for
tens of thousands of people for whom it would otherwise have been no more
than an unattainable dream. In addition to the impressively lengthy roster
of prominent public officials, academics and others who took advantage of
that access, exponentially more people were able to translate that access
into more secure and rewarding jobs and lives than would otherwise have
The ways that the world and the economy have changed in the last three decades
make higher education more important now than ever before. Just as universal
access to high school education is a basic social right, we believe that
the federal government should guarantee all academically qualifying students
access to post-secondary education as a vital social good. In 1944, the
G.I. Bill provided access to all post-secondary institutions for all qualifying
veterans. We believe that it is time to begin the debate for our right to
access to higher education.
In 1996 tuition revenues at all two-year and four-year degree awarding public
educational institutions totaled just over $23 billion, a sum equivalent
to only 2 per cent of the Federal budget for that year. Even if increased
access were to double attendance, the cost would still be easily manageable.
Is it economically and morally justifiable to deny access to higher education
to millions of people in this country today?
We, the undersigned, say no, and call for the government to assume responsibility
for payment of all tuition and fees for all students enrolled at all public,
post-secondary degree-awarding educational institutions.
© 2012 Labor Party. All Rights Reserved.