Yesterday was the big cross-province tuition protest. The shouting mob in front of the library made it hard to hear my ethics prof and I spent the rest of the afternoon being irritated by a girl with a laptop, a video iPod and way nicer boots than mine talking about how crippling her student debt is.
For today, let's put aside the fact that subsidizing university tuition forces the burden of your choices on everyone and focus on why you should pay, who pays, and what they get out of it.
The fact is that a university education is an investment much like, say, a house. Sure, you might go into debt to get one, but that's because it is going to pay off in the long run. If you are not willing to incur debt to gain your degree you should be seriously considering whether or not you should be seeking one at all.
As an B.Comm. student at the University of Windsor, each semester I have to come up with around $2500 (give or take, depending on textbook costs) which is really not bad. The taxpayers pick up the rest.
The problem with government subsidizing education is that you get what you pay for. If I was paying the full cost of my tuition, I would reap all the benefits - partly because there would be people who, facing the full cost of a university education, would decide that it's not for them. A degree is, after all, only an advantage if other people don't have them.
When the government subsidizes education, one must assume that it's because society values having educated citizens. So society pays and society reaps the benefits, assuming that society considers having lots of people with university degrees a benefit.
Individuals, then, gain less and less from a degree as university tuition is subsidized more and more. How often have we heard "An undergraduate degree just isn't enough to get you a job any more." from professors, students and high school teachers? I wonder why that is.
Back in the day, you needed to be exceptionally smart, hard working, or wealthy to get a university education. Now higher education is a "right" and everyone is "entitled" to a degree, if you want to prove through academics that you are exceptionally smart, hard working, or wealthy, you must obtain a graduate or professional degree, which still provides a substantial advantage.
Society benefits, individual students take the hit.
Personally, I'm not a fan of the fact that, while it's everyone's money going into it, it's my four years of work that goes into my degree. Sure, this work is a payment for something from which I will continue to gain some benefit, so long as academic standards aren't lowered to ensure that more students graduate. But really, if I'm going to put four years of my life into studying something, I would much rather my work be a benefit to me and me only, and I would pay far more money to gain exclusive benefits from my work.
Selfish? Sure. But everyone's selfish.
When was the last time you asked a kid, "Why are you going to university?" and got the answer, "Because it's better for society if I get a degree."