One of the most relevant topics for college students this election season is free college and student debt. As students, we are accumulating more student debt than our parents and inflation continues to rise. 

According to the College Board’s annual survey of colleges during the 2018-2019 academic year, the in-state tuition, fees, room and board at a four-year university is approximately $21,000, while out-of-state fees for one academic year at a four-year university is about $38,000. Today, the total cost for a bachelor’s degree ranges from over $84,000 to $152,000. 

A degree is extremely beneficial, but does free college make a bachelor's degree seem like a simple piece of paper? 

Free college doesn’t sound like a terrible idea for the amount of debt students will leave with, but do the benefits of free college outweigh the drawbacks? Many opponents of free college fear that college will be more normalized, so it will be seen as something everyone is expected to do out of high school even though trade school may be a better option for some students.

Also, if college is free, will students still take it seriously compared to students who are paying out of pocket?  

Another fear is that careers will just require a higher degree because a bachelor’s may not be taken as seriously anymore. 

On the contrary, college inflation has increased faster than wages, which causes a momentous issue for students going into the workforce. 

According to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, between 1989 and 2016 the average growth of wages increased by only 0.3% while the cost of attendance at a university climbed almost eight times quicker. 

Between those years, the cost of attendance at a four-year university shot up to about $104,480 while wages only went from $54,042 to $59,039, and student loans make up the largest chunk of U.S. non-housing debt, which is about $1.4 trillion, according to Forbes. 

The word that is lacking in conversation is “affordable.” Nothing is free, so the next best thing is affordability. There are many less fortunate people who would love the opportunity to attend college, but can’t afford the cost of tuition, room and board, textbooks and more. There are also many students who have to drop out because they can’t pay for the next semester. 

Although free college is essentially impossible because someone will have to pay for it, college should be more affordable for everyone who wants the opportunity to learn.