These Memes Totally Miss the Point About College Affordability

April 7th 2016

Kyle Jaeger

Every now and then, you might come across a meme on your Facebook feed that mocks the idea of a tuition-free college education policy, criticizing it as the wishful thinking of an entitled generation. But the idea that students should have to risk their lives serving in the military in order to receive an affordable education, as certain memes suggest, ignores the reality of higher education trends in the U.S.

As the cost of tuition continues to rise — leaving the average college student more than $35,000 in debt — the issue is being raised on the national stage, featured heavily in the 2016 presidential election. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has proposed a debt-free tuition model while her opponent, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, campaigns on the promise of a free public college system.

That latter plan has irked some in conservative internet circles.



The argument here is that students who want an affordable education should have to enlist in the military after high school so that they are eligible for scholarships, federal and state aid benefits, and the Military Tuition Assistance program, which covers up to 100 percent of tuition and fees for service members in the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marines. It's certainly an option, but not everyone feels that students should have to "earn" an affordable education by serving in the military.

In fact, the military has been accused of targeting students under the age of 17 with recruitment efforts, which the ACLU described as a failure on the part of the U.S. to uphold international treaties against such campaigns. The ACLU also said that the military disproportionately focuses recruitment efforts on low-income individuals and minorities — groups that struggle the most to afford college.

This user's response to a Facebook post about this issue raises an interesting point.


"You shouldn't have to go through severe physical and psychological reconditioning, risk your life, or sign up for a war that you are morally opposed to in order to get an affordable education," the unnamed Facebook user wrote. The user went on to contrast the costs of a college education in 2014 and 1970 to highlight the generational tuition gap.

Annual tuition at Yale in 1970 was about $2,500; by 2014, however, that number rose to nearly $46,000. Of course, it's important to account for economic factors such as inflation — and the fact that Yale is a private university, which cost substantially more than public schools — but the point stands: college tuition costs are on the rise across the board at the same time that the necessity of a college degree is increasing. (The average difference in salary between Millennials who graduate from high school and college is $17,500, Pew reports).


And while there's certainly nothing wrong with earning financial benefits from military service, it shouldn't be the only option available to students who can't afford tuition or want to avoid excessive debt.

RELATED: How Does Germany Afford Free Tuition For All Of Its Citizens?