If American Jobs Require More Skill, Why Aren't We Making College Free?

February 27th 2015

Alicia Lutes

There's a paywall in America that keeps people from achieving their optimal potential — the cost of college-level education. But with reports showing that American jobs are increasingly requiring more advanced skillsets, why haven't we made college education as free as primary and secondary school? It's a little bit unjust when you think about it.

In a study conducted by Georgetown University, it was estimated that by 2020, 65 percent of all jobs will require bachelor, associate, or another advanced education degree that extends beyond the academic reaches of high school and our free education system. That goes especially for science, technology, engineering, mathematics, health care, and community service — the fastest-growing industries in our nation currently. And yet governors are still trying to slash federal funding of universities, despite this steadily increasing demand for post-secondary education. Even more interesting: according to the Center for American Progress, the percentage of people that achieve a postsecondary degree has not really changed at all in the past ten years.

For example, U.S. adults aged 55 to 64 are the third most educated generation compared to their world peers. Young adult Millennials in the U.S.? They rank 10th, all of this according to a new report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an international economic organization and forum founded in 1961 to stimulate economic progress and world trade. (It consists of 34 countries.)

Besides, if the amount of money employers spend to provide further education to their employees is proof of anything, it's that education is our most vital stepping stone to economic security.

So, if we really are a nation that prides itself on our ability to innovate, create opportunity, and foster economic growth — after all, isn't that what American exceptionalism is all about? — why haven't we made college education free? Sure, the costs would be significant in the short-term, but the long-term benefits — as evidenced by the nations with free college education that have eclipsed us academically — are plentiful. Why is there such a backlash to President Obama's free community college initiative other than a short-term finance problem that could be easily solved by, say, increasing taxes on the wealthy or legalizing marijuana? If anything, that program doesn't go far enough to ensure our future as an economic, academic, and scientific world leader.

So maybe the time to consider the economic benefits of offering post-secondary education to everyone that wants it, is right now.