I got free college education. It wasn't at a small local college - it was at Cambridge, one of the top ten universities in the world. The government also gave me a "living stipend", enough for room and board in college and a tiny bit extra. Free college education continues in Scotland today, but has been abolished in England and Wales.
Government funding for education managed to keep prices low, maybe similar to how the NHS keeps healthcare costs lower than in the US. I never had to spend any money on money-mill textbooks because in most courses the lecturers provided us with notes, and where we needed books we just worked with them in the library.
I'm deeply grateful for it all. It feels crippling for young folks today that don't have wealthy parents, to have to start out their lives burdened by crippling debt. What an awful psychological burden for the next 20-30 years of their lives. How awful that they get turned into cogs in a corporate wheel where they have to grind through functional jobs to pay back that debt. How divisive that the children of rich kids are spared this.
I think it's a mark of civilization that we can educate our children and young adults, broaden their minds, give them a liberal arts background, let their creativity fly. So what if they learn poetry or philosophy or literature. So what if 90% of these educations we give them don't show a return-on-investment? I don't care. That's what society and civilization MEANS:
“I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematicks and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, musick, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelaine.” John Adams, Letter to Abigail Adams, May 12, 1780.
(As for me? I'm now a software engineer. Through my professional work I've given back lots to society, making lots of developers more productive through my language design work. I gladly pay the top rate of taxes, and would gladly pay more. I asked the tax office how to donate higher levels of tax, and the person was very confused, went off for thirty minutes to get help from her supervisors, and ultimately told me it was impossible. Every election, I always vote for the parties that will benefit the people worse off than me, at my own detriment, because that's how I think civilized people should behave. I've not seen a charity that manages to control overall education costs, or provide universal benefit, as well as the UK government did through taxes.)