Free education for all….

Why not?

Germany, Finland, and Sweden do it already, why don’t we? I recently saw an interview on a Fox News clip where a woman held her own under some tough questions. As she puts it, it would cost $67 billion for everyone to be able to get a free community college education. She is also advocating for taxing the richest of the richest to pay for it, increasing our revenues into the treasury to pay for this. Let’s first examine means where opportunity does exist…

  1. Scholarships. If high school students do well in high school, there is opportunity for them to earn scholarships.
  2. GI bill. Students who want to get free college can join the military and use the GI bill to pay for college.
  3. Borrowing. Community college is not terribly expensive, and students take on risk that they will complete the education, not the government. Students will have a student loan bill to pay off. They have to know if the return on investment is right for them, and by them assuming this risk, it helps motivate them to complete it or waste their money.
  4. Grants. Many schools/states have grant programs. Essentially, if you are in the poorest groups, you can receive aid from the school and/or state to do this.
  5. Programs. There are programs out there if you are a single mother, displaced from work, etc
  6. Athletic scholarships. Perhaps you weren’t the greatest academic scholar, but you have skills. This can translate into free or reduced schooling.
  7. Prison. Apparently, when some people go to prison, they can earn a college degree. I’m not advocating this path, but it’s there for people who have made mistakes young and decide to turn their lives around.

The problem now exists if you are not in one of these seven categories. You then have to seriously question the background of the student and their motivation for schooling and/or funding.
I have been an advocate for a class in high school for everyone on life skills. Teaching you about how life works outside of the walls. Such things as doing a budget, managing debt, cooking for yourself, chores, basic home repairs, basic car repairs, leverage, entrepreneurship, family costs, managing a checkbook, concept of return on investment, risk, and even decisions on what education (if any) is right for you and how you plan on going there. This can involve education on things like SAT prep, costs of different colleges, supply and demand in majors, average salaries within different disciplines, etc. Some of these classes can start as early as sixth grade. It can start around the time of sex ed and continue through high school. I would place a much higher priority on this subject than the arts, but that’s just me. I had to take a dreadful art history class in 8th grade. I had to deal with a whole year of English literature in 11th grade. While these are interesting subjects to many, they are not necessarily preparing you for daily life after graduation. Seems like perfect college electives!

Therefore, I’d love to see some things change with our traditional education system in the middle school to high school ranks. This would go a LONG way to preparing students to enter the work force.
Let’s get back to “free college”.
If you now say “free college” for all community colleges, you may now have enrollment increasing at an alarming rate. These are brick and mortar institutions. You may have to build more buildings, hire a lot more teachers, etc. So, I’m not sure the estimate of $67 billion accounts for all of the potential new construction.

  1. I wanted to review some possible alternatives to “free community college”.
    Life education added in middle/high school as outlined above. Perhaps there is a 6 week program offered for “free” to high school students who are graduating and need to get more life skills education. This could be between junior and senior years and help prepare them for the things they need to do their last year to go to school.
  2. Expand online colleges and/or create a government online college. This is the main focus of this writing.

30 years ago, you didn’t have many options. You had full time school in a classroom or evenings/weekends if you were working and going back to school. Commutes with working have increased a LOT, so people are driving more than ever. Often, people are changing jobs more rapidly than before. Where you may have been a factory worker for 40 years at a company, in the field that I’m in with IT, you change once every 1-5 years or so based on technology, becoming obsolete, or giving yourself a raise. So, the atmosphere for brick and mortar for a lot of people has become not a great option. What about people who don’t really want to live in dorm life? They can commute to school locally and live with their parents.

However, with online speeds as high as they are, online schooling has become a more attractive option to many. I am currently doing this. There is such a stigma around it, and I guess for applied sciences it would be kind of hard to work on a chemistry lab from your home. However, there are many, many disciplines where online schooling is perfect. I once went to Villanova for a year towards my MBA. LOVED the school. However, I was getting done work at 5-5:30 and expected to be in class at 6:30 ready to go for 3 hours. If I had to work late, this became extremely difficult. I wasn’t getting home until 10PM and then might have had to do some homework before bed. I also did a year and a half at York College of PA for my MBA after I was displaced from my job and had to move. I decided to continue at YCP. The schooling was a bit different, but I lived 5 mins away from campus. Then, I got a job in Baltimore and suddenly the hour to 90 minute commute was having me wake up at 5AM and sometimes missing evening classes if I had to work late. For me, online almost became a necessity.

There are pros and cons with online, depending what school you go to. Some are “for profit” schools like University of Phoenix, and they once had over 500,000 people going to it. After some scandals with billing and taking money, their enrollment is down to 200,000 or so. This school might fold at some point, but there are also a lot of brick and mortar schools expanding into the online universe backed by their name. I chose University of Maryland University College because of the major offered to me in cybersecurity was a perfect fit for my career trajectory. It was kind of brutally hard at times. Lots of reading, lots of videos, and lots of labs. It was different than traditional brick and mortar education, but not inferior. Often you’d have professors come in and go over slides from your readings the past week and open discussion. In the online world, this is accomplished with a LOT of reading and written discussions which require everyone to communicate. Lots of papers rather than scantron tests.
The interest in this, for me, is that it’s highly scalable and extensible with a significantly lower cost of operations. Let me paint some scenarios for you.

Brick and mortar Online
medium in a classroom, possibly bringing your laptop in your home with high speed connection and laptop.
lecture require a teacher onsite to talk.  This requires a room and students to commute to the facility. professor has a class, but lecture materials are recorded and distributed to dozens of sections of a class.  Can use lectures from extremely reputable schools to leverage high quality education.
entrance requirements ranging from medium to stringent open to anyone who pays for many schools.  This can have an effect if some people in your class can’t keep up.  You know they will wash out
expandability requires a school to build more buildings at high capital costs Add more servers at a fraction of a fraction of a cost.  Increase network infrastructure as needed.  Significantly less cost than adding buildings
extensibility If new program started, might need to build new buildings If new program started, development of curriculum and tools developed, perhaps more servers added
reputation high low, and climbing for people who have gone through it and recommend it to others
collaboration medium to high low to medium.  You never really “meet” your classmates, but there are a lot of group assignments which allow some collaboration
relationship networking high low

 

Now, if a system like this was run by the government at no cost to those who cannot afford school, let’s assume you have an enrollment of 100,000 to 200,000.  What are the operating costs? 

To put it into perspective, my college has enrollment somewhere near 90,000 and it’s part time for most of them.  The operating budget shows the costs were $1.8 billion. 

So what if we could offer free associates, bachelors, and masters degrees to those who cannot afford it based on need?  Maybe we get 400,000 students?  Maybe this costs between $5-10 billion?  To put this into perspective, costs of food stamps last year was $74 billion. 

How do you pay for this?  You could raise taxes to the richest 1/10th of 1 percent, but apparently a lot of the richest are already fed up with paying for everyone else and are threatening to move out of the country.  Not sure if they would, but you get the idea.  What if we invested in welfare fraud and defense budget fraud – two fronts, one to appease each party.  If each side then had to scrape back $2.5-$5 billion in fraud, then they can essentially pay for college for anyone who cannot afford it.  

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