Skip to content

Is Tuition-Free Education a Possibility in the USA?

The History of Tuition-Free Education in the U.S.A copy


Interested in attending a quality higher education institution in America? Then, you’ll probably be asking, “Is education free in the USA?” With technological advancements and unique learning opportunities, education has the possibility to be free or close to free, you just have to know where to look. We’ll share more on such opportunities in this article.


That being said, if you are to look at the trends and data, the average cost of education in America seems to continuously be increasing. Suffice it to say that you’ll be shocked to find out the history of free college in America.


In this article, we’ll cover the ins and outs of tuition costs and overall educational costs in America, from a historical, present, and forward-looking perspective.



Source: Unsplash 



The Average Cost of Education in America


According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average tuition costs in America are on the rise across almost every type of higher education institution.


When looking at 4-year institutions and comparing costs from the 2019-2020 academic year versus the 2010-2011 academic year, average tuition and fees have risen for the public, private non-profit, and private for-profit schools. The only category in which the average rates have decreased was for private for-profit 2-year institutions.


Let’s look at some numbers to understand the average cost of education in America from 2019 to 2020 data:


4-year institutions

  • Public: $9,400
  • Private nonprofit: $36,700
  • Private for-profit: $19,100


2 year institutions

  • Public: $3,800
  • Private nonprofit: $18,600
  • Private for-profit: $15,700




History of Free College in America


With the high cost of college, it’s interesting to look at what was once the norm across America. In the 1860s, some of the universities that were established through federal land grants offered free tuition, as did other institutions that followed suit. In 1847, Baruch College in New York was founded as the Free Academy, marking the first free public institution of higher education across the nation.


Additionally, in California, the debate of free college was heavy. When the University of California college system was initiated, it was tuition-free. That began to change when the state gradually pulled money out of education. With less money being allocated to the educational budget, the new political and economic reality ushered in the need for tuition to support the school system’s “core operating funds.”


There are many European countries that still offer free college and some tuition-free institutions in the United States. An example of this is our very own University of the People, which is entirely online and tuition-free. That being said, in America, tuition-free is certainly not the norm.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”48358″ img_size=”full” onclick=”custom_link” img_link_target=”_blank” css_animation=”flipInX” link=”” el_id=”cta-blog-picture”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

When Did Colleges Start Charging Tuition?


With anecdotes of free tuition across states in past decades, it’s natural to wonder why and when things started changing.


Legislative and social changes in the 1960s started to really shift the business model of colleges, ending the era of tuition-free state universities. As a result, the student debt crisis began.


After WWII, the GI Bill affected the demand for college as more Americans wanted to go due to their military benefits. Additionally, President Johnson passed legislation during the Civil Rights movement that also opened the door for more students to go to college.


With more eligible college students in America, the demand continued to soar and outweigh the supply (amount of colleges). The consequence was that for-profit universities started to form.


Then, when President Nixon took office, he brought into existence Sallie Mae, of the Student Loan Marketing Association. Sallie Mae was initiated to help ensure that students could cover tuition costs, but in effect, it really ended up increasing the cost of education.



Source: Unsplash 



Is Tuition-Free Education Actually a Thing?


Back in the day when education was tuition-free, it wasn’t initially intended for everyone. Typically, more “well off” individuals had the privilege to attend college as they didn’t have to work for a living and could cover the associated fees. Additionally, colleges began in an era of discrimination whereby both racial and sexist injustices barred certain demographics from attending college in the first place. For these reasons, the demand and supply were balanced and covering the costs of running institutions wasn’t in jeopardy.


As times have changed and education is open for all, tuition-free still does exist. The University of the People is an entirely online institution that was founded with the mission to “offer an accessible, quality education to any qualified student through flexible, affordable, online, accredited degree-granting programs that give graduates the potential to lead successful, fulfilling lives as individuals and members of society.”


We achieve this mission by offering an entirely online model of education whereby we can keep our overhead costs low and forego the need to charge tuition. Along with the aid of volunteers and professors from world-renowned institutions of higher education, we continue to provide students around the world with access to quality higher education.



Final Words


At different points in history, answering the question of “Is education free in America?” looked different. In the beginning times of college, tuition was more likely to be free at a higher number of institutions, especially state and federally sponsored colleges. As the demand for college increased and the doors were opened to more students, colleges began to operate under for-profit models and needed to find ways to cover costs.


As the cost of education continues to trend upwards, students can access high-quality and affordable degree programs at universities like the University of the People.


[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/4″][vc_single_image image=”50504″ img_size=”medium” alignment=”center” style=”vc_box_circle_2″][/vc_column][vc_column width=”3/4″][vc_custom_heading text=”“I couldn’t apply for any loans so I decided not to go to college…then I was told about UoPeople“” font_container=”tag:h3|text_align:left|color:%234b345d” use_theme_fonts=”yes” css=”.vc_custom_1653909754521{margin-top: 10px !important;}”][vc_column_text css=”.vc_custom_1653909787168{margin-top: 10px !important;margin-bottom: 10px !important;}”]

Nathaly Ordonez

Business Administration Student, US

[/vc_column_text][vc_btn title=”BECOME A STUDENT” style=”custom” custom_background=”#e90172″ custom_text=”#ffffff” shape=”square” link=”” el_class=”become_btn”][/vc_column][/vc_row]