Photo by Dominik.
Americas / College

The College Cultural Allowance

This past fall, 12.6 million full-time students, approximately 1.9 percent of the population, were expected to attend colleges and universities across the United States. This group is comprised of the most curious and intellectually engaged individuals in the United States; college-aged students are interested in the surrounding world and are actively seeking out new knowledge. However, as ambitious and interested as these students are, they are severely limited in their resources. College is expensive and time consuming, causing students to stay on campus and limit their spending to essentials. Thus, the population which benefits the most from engaging in culture is inhibited from doing so.

To counter this problem, let us consider a universal income for college students in the form of a federal grant to all US college students: the College Cultural Allowance (CCA). CCA would grant students the ability to engage more actively with society, provide positive economic injections into college communities, and work to tackle inequality on college campuses.

CCA will provide every US full-time college student a $200 stipend to spend on activities that further engagement within academics, the arts, and popular culture. Funded by the federal government,  CCA will be given out by the United States government annually to all students at a determined date. The students who receive the grant will need to be in good academic standing, having a minimum GPA of 2.0, and be enrolled as full-time students. CCA will be given out on prepaid credit cards; each card will have the name of the student and require identification to be used in person or personal information to be used online. A website will contain information with all the various purchases that the CCA is eligible for. Using an online claims system, students can claim certain purchases that they believe should qualify for the CCA. CCA will be a spend it or lose it program; students have one year to spend the $200 stipend that cannot be saved or stacked.

CCA provides various benefits. Primarily it encourages students to engage with contemporary society more directly. By providing a spend it or lose it income, CCA motivates college students to go out into their communities, explore their interests, and participate in everyday society. For example, CCA could be used by students to partake in community centers for arts and entertainment, explore personal academic interests, or engage with their fellow peers in culturally immersive social settings off-campus. It is important to motivate cultural involvement for college-aged students because these persons will eventually be the ones defining culture in the coming years. Through CCA, college students will have the ability to explore their own interests in a way that will enable them to contribute positively to society in the future.

CCA is appealing because it provides a direct stimulus to local economies. CCA will provide a fixed income to full-time students, who are less likely to have large incomes because of the time and expenses required for school. This will hopefully increase activity in sectors of the economy that benefit from college student spending. This could include local businesses in campus towns and centers for arts and entertainment. With the price of tuition at an all-time high, students are less likely to have expendable income and students with expendable income are less likely to spend it. CCA provides a guilt-free expendable income for students because of its spend it or lose it nature.

CCA provides a degree of association between college students and helps to tackle inequality on college campuses in America. Since every student in good standing will have access to the stipend, all students can participate regardless of socioeconomic class. For students, the CCA stipend eliminates the fear of asking a peer to attend an event and being told that the peer cannot afford it. This will create more opportunities for interaction among students of different backgrounds and alleviate some of the socioeconomic pressures on campuses. CCA will provide students with opportunities for social interaction outside of the classroom in everyday society that will foster many connections: connections between the students on campus when these students partake in the same or similar events, connections between the students and their local community when CCA is spent near campus, and connections between students across the country who attend national events or share similar experiences.

This proposition of a universal income for full-time college students is largely a thought experiment based on similar ideas. Two specific programs, one in Italy and another in Finland, inspired the proposition. In Italy, a similar cultural allowance was given to teenagers in support of education and cultural integration. In 2016, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi granted a €500 bonus to all residents born in 1998 to spend on cultural activities. This basic income was established as a counter-terrorism measure largely in part to the huge influx of immigration into Italy. It is unclear how effective this bonus was in Italy or whether the Italian government is interested in further developing the program. In Finland, the government is currently in the middle of an experiment testing a basic income. The Finnish government randomly selected 2,000 unemployed workers to receive 560 euros per month for two years. However, the basic income in not meant to serve as a traditional unemployment aid. Instead, the basic income does not go away when the beneficiaries acquire employment. There are mixed opinions on the effectiveness of basic income.

A major question for this proposal is where will the money come from? A breakdown of the numbers shows that this program is feasible. In 2017, 12.6 million students were expected to attend college full-time, and the US government spent a total of $3.65 trillion. If the government were to grant US full-time college students $200 each, this would equate to $2.52 billion and would represent approximately 0.069 percent of the federal budget. This number is minute compared to other government programs. The US spends about $543 million on national defense, roughly 15 percent of national spending. Medicare and health spending total $972 billion, 26.6 percent of the federal budget. Further, the US currently only spends $81.7 billion on education, 2.2% of federal budget, considerably lower than other major programs.

Although it may be possible to add this to the US budget, it is hard to determine where the money would come from. It could be reasonable to pull some money out of another US program. For example, the $2.52 billion required to fund CCA represents only 0.46 percent of total national defense spending or 0.18 percent of total social security, unemployment, and labor spending. It could also be possible to fund CCA using federal taxes. The $2.52 billion could be funded by levying additional income taxes on the entire population or increasing corporate taxes.

College students in America are some of the most culturally engaged members of the entire population. This group of intellectuals has a wide range of interests that are not met fully in the classroom. However, because of high tuition costs and time needed to complete course work, students are less likely to have expendable incomes. This lack of expendable income limits students from immersing in their interests outside the classroom. A program like CCA could provide students with the necessary funds to explore their interests while also promoting increased expenditures in related economic sectors and association among college students regardless of socioeconomic class.