The ”how” to free college

It’s hard for ne to think of a government program that raises more ire than President Joe Biden’s brainstorm to give away between $10,000-$50,000 to people who have voluntarily taken on debt, and who are so young to have contributed nothing to society. More on that in a moment.


I refer to college students and Biden’s plan is nothing more than a transparent attempt to buy votes.

Compared to this giveaway, Bernie Sanders’ idea to make (at least) community college free is common sensical, because everyone has a shot at the benefits, and is an extension of the current philosophy of free education from kindergarten through high school. That’s been around for more than a century and who could argue that society’s needs have not changed? 

The foundational principle of free education is that it’s good for the children, sure, but it is also necessary for a society that needs educated and trained individuals. 

Free public education is a win-win situation.

Greasing the palms of college students in debt is more of a they win-you lose proposition.

What’s wrong with it? Let me count the ways:

Elitism. Only about one-third of Americans attend college. So the giveaway benefits the few, and only the few that have not met their obligations. It discriminates against those who have.

Robbing the poor. The “forgiven” debt does not go away. It is paid back primarily by people who did not go to college. 

Helping the rich.  The average amount of student debt for a person with a bachelor’s degree is $28,950, which is manageable. But it is $66,300 for an MBA, $71,000 for a master’s degree, $145,500 for a law degree and $201,490 for a medical degree. People with advanced degrees are 25% of the loan takers, but half of the money owed, according to Brookings.

It punishes the responsible. The students and parents who scrimped and saved and took out college loans that they paid back are made to look like fools. The giveaway sends the message that being irresponsible is OK if you have a rich Uncle Sam to bail you out.

It encourages bad behavior. If you believe the government will bail you out, that encourages you to take on a larger debt that you can afford. Why not — you are not responsible.

A reward for what? As hinted at above, students have done nothing to improve society or fund the government. They have not started earning, of course. You know who has made things better? The middle class.

Reward the middle class. A 50-year-old probably has been paying taxes for 30 years. How about help with their mortgage? That would improve the economy — something said of reducing college debt — but chances are the 50-year-old will not spend the windfall on drugs and imported bicycles. And — oh — they are far more likely to vote than a 20-year-old. 

If the goal is to increase college attendance, and reduce the debt burden, I have a better way.

It starts with an observation that students are asked to pay a lot — the loans — before they have earned anything. That seems silly. Wouldn’t it be better to take on debt when you have money?

My plan starts with a controversial statement: Any student should be able to attend any public college or university for which they qualify — for free.

Who doesn’t like free?

But we know there is no such thing as a free lunch.

So who pays?

The student — but later.

Here’s my plan. Don’t hold me too close to the math. My figures can be adjusted by economists and mathematicians.

You attend, say, Temple, for “free.” Current tuition is $16,970 a year. You owe $67,880 for the four-year ride. 

You graduate and you get a job. 

You make restitution by paying back 1% of your gross salary for the rest of your life.

Does ”lifetime” sound shocking? It is no different than income tax, or Social Security, something that comes out of every paycheck.

Is 1% too much to ask for a college education? College graduates earn about #1 million more over their lifetime than high school graduates.

If you wind up in a low-paying field, your monthly percentage will be low. You may never pay back the $67,880. If you become a billionaire, you will pay a lot, but you won’t miss it, and your overpayment will help fund the system for future students.

So my plan is free, but not free. It doesn’t reach into taxpayers’ pockets, and it’s open to everyone.

I call it the 1% educational solution. 

39 thoughts on “The ”how” to free college”

    I got to hand it to you. Your brain never stops.
    I guess that you know what Temple and the locals cost. I never when local, nor my children n or their children. Minor point, although choosing a career is related to choosing a school. For example, the top law firms only look at Ivy League schools. Of that, they only look at the 10% of those graduates. The payback ‘commensurate with the education’.
    The other route for ‘free’ education is to let the military pay for it. It used to be for a 4 year degree, 2 years active duty. Don’t know about now.
    I don’t know if there are any programs still around for teaching degrees. You get you degree and certs, then you go teach at an inner city school.
    All of these programs make sense, so we won’t do that. We’ll just give away a college degree in flower design of pottery or some other much in demand profession.

    1. And, as usual, you are the first to chime in. Good addition — the military. Not sure what the deal is now, but probably good as there is trouble recruiting.

  2. At the risk of indulging in anecdotes, Brian and I both worked our way through graduate/medical schools after undergrad scholarships. We accrued no debt. Our SIL paid off his medical school debt in three years after graduation. Our daughters and other SIL got merit scholarships and worked as R.A.s and T.A.s. I remember when my one SIL went from office to office at MIT trying to sell himself to faculty members as an R.A. They were so impressed with his intrepidness that he was offered several positions. Responsibility and accountability — a quaint notion. Of course it was a different time (especially for us) and tuitions were not as high as they are now. So that does need to be taken into consideration.
    Having said that, Arts and Humanities majors who attended non-selective schools are the most likely to default on their student loans. Why? Because these degrees don’t get you a job sufficient to support yourself, never mind pay off debt. Putting aside possible intellectual enlightenment, what does one do with a degree in dance anthropology? I use this example because the inky used a person with that useful degree a few years ago as an example of someone struggling with student debt.
    I’ve always been of the opinion that there are two factors at play here: personal responsibility (for students and parents) to know what the job prospects of their majors are; and the ethics of colleges/universities offering near worthless degrees to idealistic but naive students. I’m sure they do this to keep their departments and professors employed, but they should be required to educate prospective students on the value of their degree. If a young person wants to major in women’s studies, Russian literature, semiotics, critical social theory after being duly informed and with eyes wide open — fine. But they shouldn’t expect me to foot the bill when they can’t pay for it.

    1. At the risk of spraining my arm patting myself on the back, the STUDENT pays for his/her education.
      As to degrees that don’t lead to meaningful income, that’s a different matter.
      My favorite major — lesbian poets of the Elizabethan era.
      I would prefer golf course management, which is a real thing. And I don’t even like golf.

      1. Yeah, a lot like us. I think working our way through is why we have good bullshit detectors and are resistant to social pressure.
        As for golf course management (I’m no fan either) I’m not sure it’s a degree but it is a legitimate job – unlike what the poets would result in. WTF are these universities thinking???

          1. I have several family members and friends that graduated from reputable US colleges/universities with Turf Grass Mgt degrees. They are some of the hardest working people I know and all of them make great salaries working as golf course superintendents or field management for professional sports teams. You just need to look past the long hours and occupational hazards…

  3. My wife and kids went to Community college for the first two years entering into an honors program that if your marks matched the qualifier at the end of the two years you had access to most of the major college programs for the final two years. In the medical field serving for six years in areas where there is no access to health care is one qualifier for Government payment tuition. One of the major problems is knowing of what benefit to the state or country is your career choice. Especially in sports I watched a student get a full scholarship because of his ability to kick a football and his major was sand study. I think your program has merit but as always does the end justify the means. Or have a program like New Jersey where immigrants or foreign residents with a visa receive a 50 % reduction in tuition. I always pictured this student asking for some help from another student whose parents and New Jersey taxpayers paid full tuition for the same education.

  4. I paid my college debt off within a couple years. People need to read the fine print when applying for loans. I believe if you borrow; you have an obligation to pay it back.

  5. I like your idea and I am enjoying the interesting comments so far, but it wouldn’t work for what I’m thinking. Bernie would have to expand his plan to suit me. I believe there’s a quote, “When you hear the word free, reach for your wallet.” This shouldn’t affect my wallet…I’m old and I’m retired with a lot of free time. I feel that I’ve contributed a fair amount to society. I served my country and city and my family. Others I’m sure have, too. Now that I’m in my waning years I would like to try for that education that I could never afford or wanted when I was young. Free sounds wonderful to me 😁

    PS I want to be a doctor.

    Seriously, Stu, shouldn’t we also be looking at why higher education has become so ridiculously expensive…re., Wanda’s WTF reply posting. It would be an interesting topic, if you haven’t yet.

    1. The cost of higher Ed is a separate topic. I have not researched it, but I know tuition far outstrips cost of living. I suspect there are too many administrators and profs who reach a single course for $200K, like Elizabeth Warren. I also think there are way too many diversity, inclusion and equity staffers.

  6. I agree with you Stu. Taxpayers should not be footing the bill for someone earning hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.
    I was lucky that my parents paid for my college education. I know many who were not that lucky, but they paid their college debt. It just seems like another issue for those that do not want to take responsibility for themselves and prefer to leave it to others.

  7. It’s amusing to me that, as I self- described a-hole liberal, I absolutely and fully agree with everything Stu wrote here. Perhaps those folks who deem to hate liberals should take note and try to understand what it means to be liberal rather than painting us all with the same broad brush? That would be nice.

    1. I’ve never heard anyone say they hate liberals, Freeze, and I’ve been following Stu for his three years here. On the contrary, when Trump is mentioned we get eviscerated. If I’m wrong please correct me.

      1. Tom W.

        While I have not seen the actual word “hate” used I have seen a large number of negative things said about people who disagree with what Trump and the other conservatives want. Even if I take myself out of the equation, since I have been known to attack others here, what I just said still holds true. There are ilttle digs, insults, innuendos, etc. that show up on a regular basis from the conservative people here.

      2. Yeah, well one assumes a degree of hatred when one is called a “Dimocrat” or some such childish name. So yes, I’m correcting you. And I guess your definition of “eviscerated” is when people ask you to provide, ya know, actual facts?

    2. “𝙋𝙚𝙧𝙝𝙖𝙥𝙨 𝙩𝙝𝙤𝙨𝙚 𝙛𝙤𝙡𝙠𝙨 𝙬𝙝𝙤 𝙙𝙚𝙚𝙢 𝙩𝙤 𝙝𝙖𝙩𝙚 𝙡𝙞𝙗𝙚𝙧𝙖𝙡𝙨 𝙨𝙝𝙤𝙪𝙡𝙙 𝙩𝙖𝙠𝙚 𝙣𝙤𝙩𝙚 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙩𝙧𝙮 𝙩𝙤 𝙪𝙣𝙙𝙚𝙧𝙨𝙩𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙬𝙝𝙖𝙩 𝙞𝙩 𝙢𝙚𝙖𝙣𝙨 𝙩𝙤 𝙗𝙚 𝙡𝙞𝙗𝙚𝙧𝙖𝙡 𝙧𝙖𝙩𝙝𝙚𝙧 𝙩𝙝𝙖𝙣 𝙥𝙖𝙞𝙣𝙩𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙪𝙨 𝙖𝙡𝙡 𝙬𝙞𝙩𝙝 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙨𝙖𝙢𝙚 𝙗𝙧𝙤𝙖𝙙 𝙗𝙧𝙪𝙨𝙝? 𝙏𝙝𝙖𝙩 𝙬𝙤𝙪𝙡𝙙 𝙗𝙚 𝙣𝙞𝙘𝙚.”

      Freeze, I do not believe it will happen here. On the other hand, because of what I just said, it might.

      Some people, on both sides seem to feel if you are not 100% liberal or conservative then you do not fit in with them. There is no such thing as being middle-of-the-road for them. IMO this happens more on the Republican side since they have a term, (RINO), for it. I say that because I hear it more from them than I do the Democrats. I wonder, would the opposite of RINO be DINO?

      Just to let you know, I also agreed with Stu’s post.

    3. It underscores my opinion of Mayor Pete. Would that other politicians had the common sense, courage and intelligence to stand up to the misinformation machine. Too bad he doesn’t have a chance — at least in my lifetime — to be president.
      On that topic, I simply do not understand homophobia and anti-gay stances. A truly conservative point of view would be “live and let live” and whatever one wants to do in private, as long as it hurts no one, should be none of anyone else’s business.

    4. Yay Freeze. I’m of the same opinions as you can see. Interesting though how the trump crowd (I refuse to call them conservatives)
      tends to ignore the insults posted about liberals. I refer to “dims” and “libtards” as two I’ve seen.

      1. Wanda, let us not forget that Freeze was accused of having a lot of “pent up poinon” and you Freeze and myself were addressed as “to you three that wear blinders,”.

          1. “Yada,” said liberal number one.
            “Yada yada” liberal 2 replied.
            “Altogether now,” said the third one, “Yada, yada, yada” they all cried.😇

  8. I finished active military duty in November 1963. In 1964-65 I used the Veteran Administration’s GI Bill that existed at that time to attend Villanova at night. Fast forward to 1983, when I was VP/GM at CBS. I got a letter from the VA telling me they had overpaid me by $20.00 (I kid you not) back in 1963-64 and to send the money I owed NOW or risk an IRS lock on my paycheck…or some such threat. The letter contained no audit info, just a demand to send the VA its money NOW. I can be, as you know, a real pain in the ass…so I sent the letter to then Senator John Heinz and asked him as my senator what kind of a moron at the VA would send such a letter with NO proof of an overpayment. Long story shortened: Heinz rattled the cage of one of the heavyweights at the VA who got one of his/her slugs to run a computer audit for Heinz. The audit must have been 30 pages long…and proved to Heinz, ergo to me, that I indeed owed $20.00. The saga ended with my asking Senator Heinz, “What do you think it cost the VA in computer time, plus manpower time, plus your time to collect $20.00 from 18 years or so ago?” Your government in action. Nothing has changed with government: the morons are always in charge.

    1. You attack “your government” in action at the same time you acknowledge Sen. Heinz took up your case and got you answers. He is part of “your government,” and why I dislike wide bore attacks, and thanks for your service.
      And “your government” still offers you free VA care ….

      1. I think you missed my point: the government spending perhaps thousands of dollars to collect $20. And having a US senator waste his time on such an issue. And VA care is not ‘free.’ You know there is no such thing as a free lunch.

  9. Maybe we should be looking at tuition costs. Penn paid Biden close $400,000. What kind of return did they receive. How many other wasted dollars are included in these tuitions that are passed on to the students.

    1. Without question. I mentioned in a comment there are too many administrators and too many profs earning $200,000 for teaching a single course, like Sen. Warren, for instance.

      1. Although I do agree in principle with this, as I said, I would opine that a university paying someone that kinda cash to teach just one course is doing so for the marketing bucks they get out of having that person on their roster. In other words, they are paying her (and any other such “celebrity” instructors) for more than just teaching a class, but for the revenues they generate by being associated with that institution. Whether this makes financial sense to the institution or not is up to the accountants to decide, not me. It’s like saying baseball players make too much money. They are not being paid solely to play baseball, but to put asses in the seats. And if they teams don’t wanna pay them that kinda money, then don’t pay them.

        1. The colleges who do this reject far more students than they accept. Maybe they get applicants because they have NAME pros who students will never see. Maybe

    2. That’s a very good question to ask them. As I mentioned below to Stu, they pay people like that not so much to teach, but to have on the roster to generate income (somehow). If they are NOT generating income, but simply passing larger costs on to the student body, then yeah, I got a problem with that. But I don’t know the answer because I don’t work for Penn and I am not an accountant.

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