The Problem With Free College

CLAIM: College should be free. By making college free you will lift people out of poverty.

REALITY: This one is interesting. Although those that have a college degree are significantly less likely to be in poverty, free college presents a lot of problems that can’t be ignored.

To make college free would be very costly (Somewhere between $47 billion to $680 billion annually), and that’s not even factoring in the already existing student loan debt ($1.5 trillion). But the question is whether it would be worth it or not. So, would it be? I would argue no.

For starters, the money it would cost to make college free would significantly increase government spending, which would decrease economic freedom/capitalism. Economic freedom is essential to driving down poverty. So, free college would do the opposite of what was intended.

Also, making college free would significantly drive up the demand to attend college. This causes three major problems:

First, this would cause a surplus of attendance, causing competition for spots. According to studies and history on the subject, the spots tend to go to those from the richest backgrounds.

Second, is it a college education that makes someone successful, or is it the fact that most college graduates have an above-average IQ (114)? IQ plays a major role in success, not just in the workforce, but in education as well. A majority of Americans (73.7%) lack the intellectual capacity to finish/pass college. Studies have shown that those in poverty tend to have lower IQs. Many of them would now be incentivized to attend college, and many of them would fail. Also, many people who do pass college don’t come out any more educated.

According to Jack A. Chambless, an Economics Professor at Valencia College, “Potentially millions of young people who have no business attending college would waste their time — and taxpayer dollars — seeking degrees they will not obtain… Free tuition would dupe young people into a sense of belonging, only to find that their work ethic, intelligence, and aptitude are not up to the rigors of advanced education.”

Third, it would significantly drive up the cost, causing more government spending, which would further decrease economic freedom, leading to more poverty.

In addition, college-educated individuals already make the most money in the country, so it doesn’t make sense that they can’t pay their debt off. It also doesn’t make sense that the people we would be bailing out are the very same individuals that are the least likely to be impoverished.

What’s even worse is that making college tuition free wouldn’t even eliminate student debt. The additional cost of rent, food, and books make up a considerable amount of the total cost. For example, despite college being free in Sweden, more of their students have debt than students in the United States.

Lastly, college is more required for employment than in the past (Although, many professions are starting to lower requirements to reverse job shortages). Making college more required than it was in the past is just another obstacle to success. A majority of the jobs being added are only for college-educated individuals, leaving out the rest of Americans. Many jobs require college degrees when they shouldn’t; forcing many people to pay enormous amounts of money to attend college, just to work a job that might pay as much as a trade job. Also, if college is free, it might drive people away from trade professions, causing a major shortage in jobs that are essential for the infrastructure.

It seems like the idea of free college mostly benefits the wealthy. That is not at all what was intended by making college free. So, if free college is not the solution, then what is?

The solution is simple, make college less required; so that we don’t disadvantage low-skilled workers or put unnecessary restrictions on job growth and economic freedom. This would be significantly more helpful to those in poverty than making college free.

To make one thing clear, I’m not saying that no one should attend college. College can be very rewarding, but college is an investment. All investments come with risk, and all investments have the possibility of reward and loss. Other people should not have to pay for your investment when they don’t benefit if you succeed, and they should not have to bail you out when you fail.

Below, I go over all of the evidence.


There were about 19.4 million students who attended college, full-time or part-time, in the fall of 2020.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, “The average cost for one year of college tuition and fees at four-year schools in 2020-2021 was $19,020.”

So, the total cost would be around $369 billion. This is not counting any of the additional costs or the fact that many more people would attend college if it was free. The total I calculated is similar to the results that Neal McCluskey came up with.

According to Neal McCluskey, Director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom, “Using the most recent federal data, it comes to roughly $339 billion annually or about $1,360 for every adult in the United States. If you live to age 75 and pay that annually in taxes starting at age 18, that’s $77,500—not free at all.”

It’s important to note that $77,500 is about 2.5 to 3 times more money than the average student loan debt ($25,000 to $30,000)


According to the Brookings Institute, the majority of the benefits of making college free would go to the wealthiest individuals.

Before 1998, college was free in the UK. It was an absolute disaster. The quality of education and access to higher education by those who were impoverished were significantly reduced.

According to the Brookings Institute, “To summarize, one of the main challenges of the free college era in England was insufficient funding to support the “massification” of higher education. As competition for spots increased, it appeared that the free college tuition subsidy was increasingly going to those from the richest backgrounds.”


According to the Hill, “Higher education funding has historically been handled by individual states who are beholden to an annual budget. An analysis by the Urban Institute found that in 2019, states collectively spent $311 billion on higher education — about 9 percent of general spending.”

This is around the entire GDP of Finland and the impoverished are the most likely to qualify.


In Sweden, despite college tuition being free, students still had a considerable amount of debt. In 2013, Swedish students had an average of $19,000 in student debt because of other expenses, compared to $24,800 of student debt for U.S. students.

A total of 85% of Swedish students graduate with student debt, compared to only 50% of students in the US.


In 2012, researchers at Vanderbilt University found that those with higher IQs were significantly more likely to earn higher incomes. Other studies have shown that higher IQs are one of the biggest predictors of success.


The average IQ score in the United States is between 90 and 109.

According to Psychology Today, “Research has found that, among white, American college students, those with a 105 IQ score have a 50-percent chance of dropping out of college. They also report that the average IQ of a college graduate is about 114.”

According to a 2002 study by Resing and Blok, about 3 out of 4 people (73.7%) have an IQ lower than 114; while 22.1% of the population has below-average intelligence. If college remains at the same standard, a majority of people with IQs under 114 will fail, which will be most people.


A 2011 study titled ‘Limited Learning on College Campuses’ found that “forty-five percent of students did not demonstrate any significant improvement in learning, as measured by Collegiate Learning Assessments (CLA) performance, during their first 2 years of college. Considering all 4 years of college, we find that 36% of students did not demonstrate any significant improvement in learning, as measured by CLA performance.”


In the 1970s, 72% of jobs required a high school diploma or less, compared to 34% of jobs in 2017. The college has become much more required than it was in the past.

In addition, most of the new jobs being created go to those with degrees. According to Georgetown University, 99% of job growth (or 11.5 million of 11.6 million jobs) between 2010 and 2016 went to workers with college degrees. “Over 95 percent of jobs created during the recovery have gone to workers with at least some college education, while those with a high school diploma or less are being left behind.”


According to a recent study from Harvard Business Review and Emsi Burning Glass, a leading labor market data company, a large number of companies are starting to drop requiring college degrees for employment. “Between 2017 and 2019, employers reduced degree requirements for 46% of middle-skill positions and 31% of high-skill positions. Among the jobs most affected were those in IT and managerial occupations, which were hard to fill during that period.”

Another study by Remote, global HR and payroll experts, revealed that skills-based is up 63%.

Here’s what the CEO and Co-founder of Remote, Job van der Voort, said, “Rather than using a candidate’s level of formal education as the sole indicator of how they will perform in a position, we instead suggest removing degree requirements wherever possible and taking a more holistic approach to recruitment; which involves considering their potential, life experiences, teachability, adaptability, and resilience.

Removing unnecessary, outdated degree requirements prevents employers from missing out on a huge section of the talent pool and people without degrees have skills learned through on-the-job training. This creates greater diversity and engenders a more creative culture, leading to improved problem solving and idea generation, as well as facilitating skills and knowledge sharing.”


Here’s a hypothetical scenario for you. Let’s say there is a teacher shortage and you want to be an English teacher. Currently, it would require 4 years at a University and cost somewhere between $40,000 to $120,000. If Democrats got their way, then it would be free but it would still consume 4 years of your life.

What if instead, you reduced the requirements to becoming an English teacher? Instead of 4 years of college, you only have to complete a 6-month English teacher program at the cost of somewhere between $5,000 to $10,000. All you have to do is take the most necessary elements of the four-year program and condense it into a 6-month program.

Which scenario do you think would be more effective at solving the teacher shortage?

The objection would be that the 6-month program wouldn’t prepare someone as much as a 4-year program, but that’s incorrect. A 6-month program focused primarily on English is more effective than a 4-year program where much of your attention is divided between various subjects that are unnecessary to your future career.

How much of the 4-year program was necessary for their teaching career? I imagine that only the English classes were necessary.

Do 4 years of your life and $80,000 of debt seem worth it when you can save yourself all that trouble and make more money being a garbage man?


According to the Heritage Foundation, “Economic freedom is the fundamental right of every human to control his or her labor and property. In an economically free society, individuals are free to work, produce, consume, and invest in any way they please. In economically free societies, governments allow labor, capital, and goods to move freely, and refrain from coercion or constraint of liberty beyond the extent necessary to protect and maintain liberty itself.”

Economic freedom is based on 12 quantitative and qualitative factors: property rights, government integrity, judicial effectiveness, government spending, tax burden, fiscal health, business freedom, labor freedom, monetary freedom, trade freedom, investment freedom, and financial freedom.

By grading each of these categories on a scale from 0 to 100, a score can be derived for a city, state, or country. The higher the score is, the more economic freedom that area has.


Numerous studies have shown that the higher the economic freedom score is, the less poverty there is. Economic freedom is synonymous with capitalism.

The Fraser Institute has found “that countries with institutions and policies more consistent with economic freedom have higher levels of income, more rapid economic growth, and a greater reduction in poverty rates.”

A 2020 study titled “The Relationship between Economic Freedom and Poverty Rates: Cross Country Evidence,” by Colin Doran and Thomas Stratmann of the Mercatus Center, proved that economic freedom is essential to lowering poverty throughout the world.

A 2008 Economic Freedom of the World report by Seth Norton and James Gwartney, found a very strong relationship between higher economic freedom and reduced poverty.

A 2003 study, titled “Poverty and Economic Freedom: Evidence from Cross-Country Data” by Rana Hasan, M. G. Quibria, and Yangseon Kim, found that “economic freedom is as much important for economic growth as for poverty reduction.”


Rana Hasan & M.G. Quibria & Yangseon Kim, 2003. “Poverty and Economic Freedom: Evidence from Cross-Country Data,” Economics Study Area Working Papers 60, East-West Center, Economics Study Area.

Ladan, L. (2019, June 14). Capitalism remains the best way to combat extreme poverty. Catalyst. Retrieved August 31, 2022, from

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Table 330.40 Average total cost of attendance for first-time, full-time undergraduate students in degree-granting postsecondary institutions, by control and level of institution, living arrangement, and component of student costs: Selected years, 2010-11 through 2020-2021. National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). November 2021.

U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, IPEDS, Spring 2021, Fall Enrollment component (provisional data).

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Fuller , J., Langer, C., & Sigelman, M. (2022, February 11). Skills-based hiring is on the rise. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved September 9, 2022, from

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