The debate between free or user pay post secondary education continues with usual arguments fanning the flames with hot air and ideology.  

In an article published today in the Vancouver Sun, we have been told that a new study from one sociology professor in California reveals that those who have to pay for their education do better than those who get free education.

My suspicions go wild when I hear such assertions. No one study could ever reach such a definitive conclusion. How could anyone suggest such an outcome without knowing, for example, how many middle and lower income groups do not attend post secondary education institutions because they can’t afford it?

Thorough studies of secondary schools where economics do not restrict attendance, might be a better starting point to better understand why some students do better than others even when the education is free.

It would be quite probable that high schools in wealthy districts such as St. Georges, York House and Crofton in Vancouver British Columbia (which are private schools) would produce higher grades and higher post secondary school attendance percentages than any other private or public high schools in British Columbia.

I would hypothecate that most university students from wealthier families would do better than middle and lower income families because of the consolidated advantages of tutors and no financial pressures to make ends meet while on campus.

Wealthy families would likely search for universities that cater to the wealthy where prohibitive tuition fees keep middle income and lower income families out. No doubt Harvard graduates would find employment easier than other univerisities of lesser stature and they would earn considerably higher incomes.

There are many other factors involved with how well students do in school. The role of parents contributes immensely to how successful their children will be in school. Working parents suffer disadvantage after disadvantage. They miss their children’s field trips, their school concerts, the opportunity to volunteer for the school, to have a relaxed debriefing with their children after school and often, they are too tired or stressed out to provide any meaningful input to homework.

The question of whether or not the poor should pay the same fees as the wealthy simply cannot be defended in a social justice framework that claims fairness and universal access to public institutions, the courts, and public schools. The answer is very simple. The poor can’t afford to pay the same fees and expenses to attend universities without borrowing humungous amounts and graduating with mountain-sized student loan debts that have a tendency to keep them poor for many years.

Some suggest that the student should pay for their post-secondary education because  people only appreciate things if they have to pay for them. In other words, nothing should be free.

This borderlines on the ridiculous but in a cruel way because young people need a college diploma or a university degree to simply get a job. The marketplace demands it – it does not matter if you are poor or cannot afford it. You have to get it.

In this context, the government or if you prefer, the state, has a duty to ensure its citizens are employable and equipped to live productive lives otherwise they and the taxpayer will pay through the back door of social assistance, unemployment insurance, health care and/or the criminal justice system. Governments have a vested interest in a working population.

Finally some governments such as Newfoundland-Labrador recognize the importance of getting the necessary tools for all young people to find a job by giving everyone access to post secondary education insitutions with grants instead of loans.

It’s refreshing to see religious leaders such as Pope Francis acknowledging the plight of the poor and an economic system that leaves the poor behind.

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