South

THE ARGUMENT

Should Massachusetts eliminate tuition and mandatory fees for in-state students at its public colleges and universities?

YES

Vienna DeGiacomo

Cohasset resident; political director of South Shore Young Democrats

Vienna DeGiacomo.

The details may be up for discussion, but there is no doubt we need to move forward with a plan that allows Massachusetts students to attend our public colleges and universities free of tuition or required fees. We simply cannot afford to ignore the exploding cost of college education anymore, and this approach is the only sure remedy.

Where in the 1970s students could pay their tuition, rent, and bar tab from their summer jobs, today they’d be lucky to pay tuition on a year’s wages. The cost of a college education has increased by more than 1,200 percent in real dollars since 1978, far outpacing rises in other major costs. That 1970s student had 75 percent of his or her higher education paid for by state government versus 23 percent in 2012, with students shouldering much of the burden.

Except, good luck getting a job to pay tuition without a degree. In 2016, 37 percent of jobs nationwide required a post-secondary degree. So we’ve simultaneously devalued college degrees while making them unaffordable.

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Indebted graduates put off buying houses, starting families, and opening businesses. Reducing the numbers of people that attend college isn’t the answer either. It’s established that an educated citizenship is an economically productive one. Degree-holders are less likely to commit crimes or require public assistance.

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Those born in the 1980s are at risk of becoming a “lost generation” for wealth accumulation. This is not an “avocado toast” generation. Today’s students aren’t just graduating “with nothing” like previous generations. They are graduating deep in the hole. We need to acknowledge that, for women and people of color, it’s worse. We ask them to shoulder the same debt load, and then pay them even less.

We have a choice in Massachusetts. We can continue to churn out graduates $30,000 in debt, allow businesses to pay poverty wages, and drive bright young people into less costly states where they will eventually settle down, pay taxes, and create businesses. Or, we can decide to put more funding into higher education. Personally, I’d rather spend my retirement with the economy in the hands of an educated, self-sustaining workforce.

NO

Summer Schmaling

Halifax resident; chairwoman of town’s Elementary School Committee; vice chairwoman of Halifax Republican Town Committee

Summer Schmaling.

We all have heard the phrase “nothing in life is free.” Therefore, the most obvious question to ask when someone proposes “free” college tuition is, who is going to pay for it? The answer is you, me, your neighbor, and every other taxpayer in the Commonwealth. This applies to all of us, whether or not we or our children decide to go to college.

How do you suppose we are going to pay for this? Higher taxes, of course! Some already refer to this state as Taxachusetts; well, my friends, be prepared to hand over even more of your hard-earned money to the state to pay for this!

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State aid for local public schools has risen at a sluggish rate, while the cost of educating each student has steadily risen, and the cost and number of children enrolled in special education programs is increasing at an alarming rate. This is especially crippling for small towns that rely on local property taxes to fund the majority of their education budget. In my little town, more than half of the overall budget is expended on education. This local tax burden is sure to only increase with the addition of compensating college tuition.

Speaking from personal experience, I was not “ready” for college right out of high school. One could argue this holds true for most young adults. How many of us knew exactly what profession we wanted to enter at age 18? Many students enter college without a major and many change majors before graduation. When students change their majors, it can raise their college costs, including added tuition if it prolongs their college years. With “free” college, that financial impact would hit our wallets.

I think we should focus on reining in the current astronomical costs of college that burden nearly 44 million Americans. There are a few factors I would argue are to blame for this soaring cost: high administrative overhead costs, access to federal financial aid, and a cultural shift to a belief that college degrees are necessary for success. I believe addressing those issues would relieve the debt faced by students without burdening taxpayers.

(This is an informal poll, not a scientific survey. Please vote only once.)

As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. He can be reached at laidler@globe.com.