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Should State Colleges Be Free to Attend in the United States?

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December 17, 2016

Should State Colleges Be Free to Attend in the United States?

In the contemporary educational sector, the college experience is a vital part of individuals’ professional profiles, and it represents a crucial step in the career development process. However, this important phase is under threat as many universities in the United States (US) operate on increasingly tighter budgets, which Leonard (2013) notes hinders these institutions’ capacity to offer holistic experiences to their students. This brings up the question of the validity of the fees incurred by students who undertake college studies, which is compounded by the fact that these fees also lock many youths out of these life and career-forming college experiences. Moreover, this debate also draws emotional responses from various sectors, with the overall perceptions maintaining that a sustainable solution is necessary with reference to the country’s future. Nevertheless, it is imperative to review the fees structures of state colleges to ensure that a larger number of students can access these services without the encumbrance of tuition costs.

The modern socioeconomic environment makes it imperative for individuals to get an education to improve their prospects, leading to an environment where education is key to personal and financial success (Gewertz, 2011). However, it is a harsh reality that the costs associated with higher education also locks out many students from their future potential as contributors to the national economy. Miron, Jones, and Kelaher-Young (2011) note that the right to education should be universal as highlighted in John Adams’ writings, which highlight the need for the state to shoulder the burden of educational expenses for the benefit of the entire community. The practicality of this approach is also highlighted in the land-grant colleges initiatives in the mid-19th century, which sought to remove socioeconomic barriers to higher education (Miron, et al., 2011). However, the research also indicates that this was only possible since at the time, only a small section of the population sought to pursue higher education.

Unlike in the formative days of higher education in the US, the current system has to grapple with a need to provide services to an expanding student pool while leveraging finite resources in the process (Leonard, 2013). Hübner (2012) notes that the expectation that enrolment rates are lower in contexts that require tuition fees fails to incorporate various cross-sectional variations such as financial dedications from state governments. This also suggests that in individual states, there is a difference in the amounts that states set aside for their educational initiatives, thereby hindering the application of a unilateral solution across the country. Moreover, Hübner (2012) compared enrolment rates for paid and free state institutions of higher learning and found that the removal of tuition fees only led to a 3% increase in college enrolment rates. Considering the financial investment involved in achieving these rather humble figures, it becomes imperative to further reanalyze the impact of cost on college enrolment rates.

Overall, states have shown innovation in their approaches to improving the willingness of their high school students to continue onto higher education after getting their diplomas. For instance, Leonard (2013) points out instances where some institutions introduce college classes for students from the 9th grade onwards. In these contexts, the students also get the chance to learn on college campuses, which improves their familiarity with these institutional environments and eases their transition into higher education (Leonard, 2013). The fact that these students also get collegiate recognition when they leave high school also improves their awareness of and ability to transition into their tertiary education. The need for sustainable alternatives becomes increasingly evident when noting that colleges are already engaging in budget cuts to ensure their financial stability (Gewertz, 2011). As a result, their ability to sustain these programs in the wake of reduced stakeholder contributions to keep these strategies going necessitates a resumption of the push for the reduction of college costs.

The need to balance students’ needs with institutional constraints results in an imbalance that prioritizes the institution’s needs over the learners’ educational needs. This is especially evident in the fact that when institutions face financial constraints, their budget cuts generally target programs that they perceive as non-essential to their ability to impart the requisite skills in their students (Leonard, 2013). The resulting environment places students and college institutions on opposing sides, even while the inherent need that they have for each other should necessitate the reduction of barriers to education. This is especially evident in modern contexts, whereby reductions in public funding for college programs has already led to some institutions cutting out academic and extracurricular activities even as they continue charging students for their services (Gewertz, 2011). Nonetheless, it is evident that this approach is inherently unsustainable since the expected future increases in the cost of living as well as human and material resource acquisition will continually hinder more students from being able to afford a college education.

Even as this analysis seeks to analyze the detriments of utilizing an expense-reliant college system, it is also imperative to acknowledge the factors contributing to a need for college tuition fees. Primarily, the need to ensure that instructors are compensated for their services makes it imperative for colleges to charge students to maintain the capacity to offer financial incentives to these professionals (Hübner, 2012). Additionally, some institutions also offer additional after-school opportunities through which students can earn money and contribute to their education. Leonard (2013) highlights that in some instances, institutions are only able to offer financial assistance to their students when supported by the actions of philanthropic agencies such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which indicates their impaired capacity to achieve comparable outcomes in the absence of these benefactors. Miron et al. (2011) also note that in the absence of tuition fees, it is possible for individuals to perceive college education as a low-quality service, thereby reducing its aspirational qualities in the students’ views.

The college experience is a vital stage in individuals’ professional development, which makes it imperative to ensure equitable access to ensure comprehensive coverage of the United States’ student population. However, the reality is that institutions have to charge for their services to maintain the quality of their services and access to the resources that they need for them to offer these experiences. As a result, many students are left out, while there is also an active risk of an increase to this trend as colleges continually increase tuition costs to counteract increasing financial pressures. In many case, the availability of philanthropic organizations has shown promise even though the results of these initiatives differ between institutions. The inclusion of a state-mandated fund for college education has already shown promise in countries such as Germany even though this approach only saw limited improvements in enrolment rates. Therefore, it becomes imperative to consider tuition-free college education as a necessary addition that can improve the sustainability of college education while also making this educational step unilaterally accessible to high school students in the country regardless of their socioeconomic backgrounds.


Gewertz, C. (2011). Tuition Guarantee. Education week, 30(36), 5. EBSCOhost.

Hübner, M. (2012). Do tuition fees affect enrollment behavior? Evidence from a ‘natural experiment’ in Germany. Economics of Education Review31(6), 949-960.

Leonard, J. (2013). Funding early college high school: Hold harmless or shared commitment. education policy analysis archives21, 46. EPAA.

Miron, G., Jones, J. N., & Kelaher-Young, A. J. (2011). The Impact of the Kalamazoo Promise on School Climate. education policy analysis archives19, 17.

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