During the 2016 presidential run for the White House, one candidate presents the issue of college tuition as part of his platform.

Bernie Sanders, candidate for the democratic nomination, plans to make college tuition free at public universities and colleges. According to his official website, he plans to follow the example of other countries such as Finland, Norway, Sweden and Germany.

Weber State University President Charles A. Wight, Utah Senator and former WSU president Ann Millner and former provost and director of the Center for the Study of Poverty and Inequality Mike Vaughan sat down to discuss this topic and other concerns about tuition on April 5.

4-5 Tuition Panel (Abby Van Ess) (5 of 5).jpg
The panelists Chuck Wight, Ann Millner, and Mike Vaughn discussed things like Bernie Sanders' free tuition idea and the overwhelming student debt problem in America on April 5. (Abby Van Ess / The Signpost)

“People have a very strong belief that you get what you paid for and if it’s free then it must not be worth anything,” Wight said.

Standard Examiner’s Executive Editor Greg Halling moderated the event. One question he presented to the panel was: Why can’t America model their college tuition system after European countries that offer free tuition?

President Wight explained that in those countries, students have to pass a test out of high school in order to get into a university. If students don’t pass this test to qualify for college, they are sent to work.

“A lot of American culture has been about opportunity and upward mobility and everyone deserves a chance to prove themselves and go to college,” Wight said.

Vaughn further explained that in many European countries, there are not as many universities per capita as compared to the United States. He then proposed that about 25 to 33 percent of universities would have to shut down.

“Those that were left standing would become much more selective with regard to who is admitted,” Vaughn said. “You would probably see decisions made that would take you in the direction of more vocational or technical and less arts and humanities.”

The panel addressed the importance of student loans. President Wight explained that taking out a student loan is an investment in a student’s future. He believes that this loan can appreciate in value once school is completed.

“What I say to students is: if you would think about signing a $20,000 car loan, what do you have five years later in terms of an asset?” Millner said. “If you think about an education and you finish your baccalaureate in five years, what kind of asset do you have then in terms of thinking about your future potential?”

President Wight also touched on the importance of Dream Weber, a program that began in 2010 to help low-income students pay for college. According to Weber’s website, this program uses a combination of federal and state financial aid as well as money given to the university from generous donors.

Boomer Kelley, student chair for the Walker Institute, believes that the issue of tuition is a complex issue. He encourages students to sit down and learn what it would mean for the country to have free college. He believes that there are many different solutions that should be looked over when it comes to the question, to pay or not to pay?

“I know Bernie Sanders is extremely popular with college age students. I think it’s in part because of the free college,” Kelley said. “I’m worried that students aren’t willing to look at those solutions and just want to complain about the status quo.”

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