Free tuition isn’t the right way to seek liberation from your parents

Being free to pursue any degree you like means you should be aware of the responsibilities that come with that decision

This article is a response to Jonah Dunch’s November 10 editorial, “Tuition should be free to liberate students from their parents.” 

A recent article argued that university tuition should be free so that students can be free to pursue the subjects of their choice without being pressured by their parents to choose an “employable degree.”

Students should be free to choose what they study in school. When you’re eighteen, you’re a fully autonomous adult, afforded every legal right to exist and thrive as any other adult. Where I disagree is on the solution to the problem of controlling parents.

Now, I could start by writing a small book on the economic arguments against free tuition, but I would prefer instead to rebut the premise of the aforementioned article: “Tuition should be free to emancipate students from their parents.”

Free tuition is not the solution to reducing negative parental influence on students. As a young adult, it’s important to realize that you’re no longer a child; the choices you make have consequences. Asking for free tuition in order to pursue any degree is an unnecessary abdication of personal responsibility.

Becoming an adult means navigating your own finances and balancing your life choices with your responsibilities. If you want to pursue a degree in any subject field, whether it’s the highly employable accounting field or the less employable women and gender studies field, you’re solely responsible for that decision. Your parents might push you to pursue the accounting degree, but becoming an adult means making these decisions yourself.

If you want to pursue a drama degree, I would highly encourage you to do so, as the arts are much more important to society than I think they get credit for. But you have to be aware of the costs of that decision as well. Getting that degree may not be as profitable as getting the law degree. But standing up to the social institutions, such as your parents, is requisite to adulting. Is it easy to pursue an arts degree when your parents want you to pursue a business degree? No, and I would never say that it is. But if you want the ability to make your own decisions, you have to take on the responsibility required to make them.

Crippling amounts of student fees and loans, such as the $25-50,000 USD per year paid by our southern neighbours represents an unreasonable level of debt to burden young adults in exchange for a formal education. In comparison, Canadian tuition is incredibly reasonable and affordable. The average U of A student paid $5747 CAD a year in tuition last year. Multiply that over a Bachelor’s degree, and that comes out to about $24,000 for a university degree. If university should be a transition stage where you develop into a responsible and capable adult, asking a student to take on that level of debt is more than reasonable. After all, if you can’t handle a $24,000 student loan, how on earth are you going to handle a $400,000 mortgage?

The article called Canadian tuition costs “prohibitive,” but with the wealth of financing options available, from student loans to part-time work, coupled with the relatively minor cost of tuition, it’s very difficult to support this case. $200,000 is prohibitive, but $24,000? If you’re particularly frugal, you can pay that off entirely within 3 years if you’re working a minimum wage job, never mind a job requiring a college education.  

Now, should you be concerned about your parent’s opinions? Probably, but if you take responsibility for what you want to do with your life, you gain the ability to say “Parents, I respect your decision, but I want an arts degree. I’ll pay for it myself. I understand your concerns, but I want to be happy before I’m wealthy, and that’s why I want to pursue an English degree.”

And you know what? That’s fine. You cannot allow yourself to be held to the manipulations of others if you want to live a fulfilling life. And while I understand that people want their parents to approve of their choices, and that parents are likely trying to look out for their children’s best interests, part of university is about exploring who you are and what you want to be. That means that sometimes you have to reject the status quo. You should always respect your parents, but their opinions shouldn’t prevent you from pursuing the life you want to pursue.

While it’s not my place to make judgements on others’ choices, we as a society should expect individuals to be held liable for their decisions. Making tuition free would only incentivize people to make reckless decisions while depriving them of the opportunity to make decisions that carry real weight.

I’ve personally had to pay for every dollar of my degree so far.  Maybe this has given me a hard view of the world, but because of this independence, I feel free to pursue whatever degree I want. It’s tough, but so is life. Taking on a small financial burden is an excellent first step in developing as an adult, so while we should respect the opinions of our institutions, we must also take charge of our own lives. That is a far more effective form of emancipation from the “Parent-riarchy.”

Nothing in life is free. And as it’s the stepping stone to the real world, university should conform to that pattern.

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