Equality of opportunity is a lie unless access is equal.
Our society loves to talk about equality of opportunity. We like to feel that everyone has the chance to rise to the top and succeed. But as long as financial barriers to education exist, equality of opportunity will remain a lie.
Cycles of wealth and poverty are reinforced by the cost of post-secondary education. A wealthy family will be able to give their children the highest level of education without incurring any debt. Having no debt means more money to save and invest, which in turn creates even more money.
Low income families, and increasingly middle class families, are often forced into debt to give their children a good education. Many students don’t even have family support, and are forced either to work during their studies (which can lead to burnout and lower grades), or incur massive debt, which can destroy credit ratings and make home ownership nearly unattainable.
Why should we accept this as normal?
There is nothing fair or equal about this.
Until we make post-secondary education free for all, we are perpetuating a growing division between rich and poor.
I was once against the idea of free post-secondary education. I felt that people should be responsible for paying for their own education and that going to university or college was just a personal choice or luxury. Where I was wrong – and where those who oppose free education are wrong now – is in missing the deep and lasting consequences of putting access to education behind financial barriers.
While education is a form of freedom, debt is a form of control. There is no justification for making people give up financial freedom to attain intellectual freedom. We accept without question that everyone should have equal access to elementary and high school education, so why do we stop there?
With jobs increasingly requiring complex skills, a university degree is becoming more and more necessary to achieving financial independence. If we don’t remove financial barriers, we will see our society split further into haves and have nots.
Finally, for all the worries about how much making all education free would cost, consider the cost if we don’t do it. A highly educated society has less crime, better health outcomes, and a stronger economy. There would clearly be long term savings and benefits.
The fundamental point is that how much money someone has in their wallet should not determine the skills or knowledge they can acquire. People should be rewarded for trying to learn more, not given a debt sentence.
It is time to recognize that true equality of opportunity and true social justice will only come when access to education is truly free and equal for all.