Wednesday, January 15, 2014

College for Free--Eminently Doable

This statement had me doing a double take: "In a country with over a trillion dollars of student debt, the amount of money we spend on trying to make college 'affordable' is more than it would cost to give everyone a college education for free!"

 I read it here, and then I went on to read the entire piece . . . and was just floored by finding out something else about our country that is not good and is practically unknown.

First the graphic:

What's Wrong with This Picture?

This is presented with little comment, but for me it immediately raises a couple of questions. First, doesn't this appear backwards. That lower 25 percent, saddled with all that debt even before they begin work--if they can find a job--how are they ever going to stay even, much less get ahead? And then you have to wonder about that last 9 percent of the debt-holders. Why should people of net worth over $311,000 be holding any debt at all for education? So okay, some of them probably need help, but really? Who is not getting help because these people are? Backwards!

 A mere $62.6 billion dollars!

According to new Department of Education data, that's how much tuition public colleges collected from undergraduates in 2012 across the entire United States. And I'm not being facetious with the word mere, either. The New America Foundation says that the federal government spent a whole $69 billion in 2013 on its hodgepodge of financial aid programs, such as Pell Grants for low-income students, tax breaks, work study funding. And that doesn't even include loans.

If we were we scrapping our current system and starting from scratch, Washington could make public college tuition free with the money it sets aside its scattershot attempts to make college affordable today.

Of course, we're not going to start from scratch (and I'm not even sure we should want to make state schools totally free). But I like to make this point every so often because I think it underscores what a confused mess higher education finance is in this country. On the whole, Americans seem to want affordable colleges that are accessible to all. But rather than simply using our resources to maintain a cheap public system (and remember, public schools educate 75 percent of undergrads), we spill them into a fairly wasteful and expensive private sector. At one point, a Senate investigation found that the for-profit sector alone was chowing down on 25 percent of all federal aid dollars
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And then there's the reminder further down in the article that the athletic budget for just one university (Temple) for one year is $44 million. How many athletic budgets would it take to pay for college education for everybody? It' madness, I say.
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