Korea’s drive to halve college tuition and US free tuition
University education, as well as early childhood programs, have a very important role in personal happiness and national competitiveness. But because university is not a compulsory level of education, its expensive tuition fees are a problem in Korea and the US.
For example, in 2016, the tuition in Korea at Ewha Womans University (5.9 million won) was 3.8 times as expensive as that at the University of Seoul (1.5 million won), which has been implementing a policy to halve tuition costs since 2012.
Moreover, 500 billion won will be allocated annually to support the policy to halve tuition at 52 national and city universities.
In the U.S., in April 2017 New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a deal for families with annual incomes of less than $125,000 that would make tuition free at the City and State University of New York Systems, for both community colleges, four-year colleges and universities. That free tuition plan is now part of the New York State budget. The governor’s office has also said that nearly 940,000 families in New York State will be eligible for free public college tuition when the plan is fully phased in.
However, the agreement requires those who receive free tuition to live and work in the state for the same number of years that they receive the awards. If they do not, the scholarships will revert to student loans. Scholars have historically raised the criticism that such policies of trying to "tether" students to states won’t work. Moreover, free tuition for public higher education is not a new idea. Many public colleges — including the City College of CUNY — were founded under such an idea. For a time, all of CUNY was tuition-free; however, that ended in 1976, when New York City faced a fiscal crisis.
In another case, in 2014, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, a Republican, proposed and quickly won approval to make community colleges free in his state. Many individual community college districts — in particular in California — have embraced this idea with a variety of approaches to free community college.
Many experts insist on investments in education. Professor James Heckman of the University of Chicago said that “Life-cycle Benefits” have substantial beneficial impacts on health, children’s future labor income, crime, education, and mothers’ labor income, with greater monetized benefits for males. Also, according to researchers at Harvard, children who participated in Head Start showed college enrollment levels higher than those of children who did not participate.
On Jan. 27, 2012, former President Barack Obama supported the idea that earning college degrees is associated with a declining unemployment rate and rising incomes. The unemployment rate of Americans with college degrees is low; their incomes are twice as high as those who have no degree. 60% of new jobs in the future will require more than a high school diploma. Hence, the government is pursuing a country in which it is not only the few who have a chance to succeed — everybody does. There needs to be more effort made to form an economy in which every American has access to a world class education.
UBC Economics Professor John Helliwell once said: “Happy countries are those where family and friends share good health, income, personal freedom and a trustworthy environment; these conditions can be created through social support for education.” His words cast a long shadow.