Education is not for sale

Students protest at the University of Vienna in Austria in October 2009.

What exactly is infrastructure? It's up for debate. Some think of it as only so-called "hard" infrastructure, like roads and bridges, while others leave room for "soft" infrastructure, including childcare and climate policies. I want to focus on the "soft" infrastructure that University of Cincinnati (UC) students, specifically, should be paying attention to: free college. 

As of right now, the bill, which sits in the hands of the U.S. House of Representatives, carves out funding to make community college free, a huge step in a country that has let student debt skyrocket. However, I think that we shouldn't stop at making community college free – we should make all public institutions of higher education free. 

College is ingrained into American culture. From a very young age, we are told that your entire K-12 education culminates in your parents dropping you off at a college dorm to start the next stage of life. There you will prepare to make $32,000 more, on average, than those with only a high school diploma. People say, "money doesn't buy happiness," but I assure you in the "land of the free," it does, which is a different conversation for a different day. 

The most pressing problem is that not everyone has equal access to that blueprint. Our current higher education system rewards the wealthy – mostly straight, cis-gendered, white men – and punishes the less fortunate. According to EducationData.org, the average cost of college in the United States is $35,720. For the wealthy, that's pocket change; for the upper-middle-class that's do-able; for the middle and working-class, that's a burden; for the people living in poverty, that's impossible. 

It's no wonder that the poor stay poor in this county. That's not even mentioning that most poor people in the U.S. are racial minorities and LGBTQ+ people. According to 2018 Census data, 25.4% of those in poverty are Native American, 20.8% are Black, 17.6% are Hispanic, with white people and Asians making up 10.1 percent of the people living in poverty. According to the Williams Institute, 22% of queer people live in poverty, compared to 16% of straight, cisgender people. Trans people have especially high rates of poverty at 29.4%. How can straight, cisgender, white people make up most of the country but have the lowest poverty rate? Systemic racism, homophobia and transphobia that higher education helps perpetuate. 

Many people like to act like the U.S. has achieved equality, but the simple fact is we aren't even close. Equality isn't a system that keeps minority groups wondering how they will eat next, while straight, cisgender, white men continue to flourish. Equality isn't college being unobtainable to some and not a second thought for others. Free public college won't fix everything, but it's a start.

It's also popular. According to Pew Research Center, 63% of Americans favor free college. On top of that, the Democratic platform calls for making public colleges and universities tuition-free for students whose families earn less than $125,000, which they say is roughly 80% of Americans. They can't let this opportunity go to waste – Infrastructure must include free college. No questions asked. 

Opinion Reporter

Zachary Jarrell has been with The News Record since 2020 as a staff reporter and now opinion reporter. He has interned with Gateway Journalism Review and The National Memo.