Considering Chilean College Changes

How gratuidad is changing Chile

Everyone knows the deal with college in the United States; it can be extremely expensive for the average person, and many will spend a lot of their lives paying off the loans they took for their education. Debates rage between Americans about the correct course of action regarding the expenses of college, but a solution, or at least some ideas, might be found outside the country. Examining the concept of gratuidad, the practice of free college in Chile, can provide some evidence of the advantages and disadvantages of an option that could become a reality in the future.

The concept of gratuidad came about after mass protests in Chile over rising education costs and large debt amounts from loans in 2011. Several years later, the idea was passed in the Chilean Congress and has since been introduced to help more people gain access to college. The idea has been popular in the country among many new students, changing about 15% of their attitudes towards attending college now that it is tuition-free to many people. It has been inspiring students to pursue education that they wouldn’t have otherwise sought. 

However, gratuidad does bring several drawbacks to complement its advantages. To be clear, gratuidad doesn’t provide free college to all prospective students in Chile. It actually only provides free tuition to the bottom 60% of money-makers. Also, it doesn’t cover costs for room and board, meals, and transportation to and from colleges. Those costs must come out of students’ pockets. Additionally, gratuidad comes from taxes collected from people, and it is quite expensive. The plan originally was to provide free tuition to everyone, but due to the immense cost in taxes, the scale had to be reduced to cover only the bottom 60%. Chilean taxpayers have to pay over $1.5 billion each year, a large price for a country with only 5% of the US population.

Still, even with the drawbacks of the program, many people in Chile continue to support the concept of free tuition. Chileans that pay “pay for the institution that will have all the representation of the society in it,” according to Rosa Devas, vice president for academic affairs at the University of Chile. The idea of gratuidad can perhaps influence attitudes towards free tuition in the US, with its increased accessibility to lower-income students, but may also be criticized with the apparent drawbacks the program delivers. Nevertheless, gratuidad is a unique step in the right direction; providing a good education to as many people as possible.