I think it is feasible to provide college education with free or affordable tuition, as Bernie Sanders advocates. Foreign countries do so, and the United States once did, too.
I have long been in favor of free or affordable college education for everybody who has the desire and ability to do college work, but this is different from providing free tuition for everybody.
Ron Unz, the maverick political editor and writer, has proposed that Harvard University offer free tuition. As he says, it can easily afford it because of the tax-free revenues of its huge endowment fund. He also advocates for a fairer admissions process, especially for Asian-American students.
Those are excellent proposals. But they wouldn’t get everybody who wishes into Harvard.
Sanders’ plan is for the federal government to pay for two-thirds of the cost of college education at state universities that offer free tuition and meet other conditions. I expect that many state governors would turn down this generous offer. Most states are cutting the budgets of their state university systems. And after all, many states refused to expand Medicaid even though the Affordable Care Act offered to cover nine-tenths of the cost.
Germany is frequently cited as an example of a country that provides free college tuition for everyone, including foreigners, who can pass an entrance examination.
During the golden age of American public higher education, college education was much less common. As recently as 1990, only 23 percent of young American adults were college graduates.
Higher education in Germany also is much more bare bones than it is in the USA. German colleged generally offer a rigorous academic program without the extra-curricular amenities that Americans typically regard as a part of the college experience.
American politicians and business executives promote college education as a route to higher-income jobs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, fewer than 30 percent of jobs, such as engineer or medical doctor, require somebody with a bachelor’s degree or better.
But with so many college graduates in the job market, employers are “up-qualifying.” They only consider college graduates even though college-level training is not needed in order to do the job. Increasing the number of college graduates, in and of itself, will only increase the level of competition for that limited number of jobs.
Germany upgrades the skills of his work force through high-level vocational and apprenticeship programs that lead to guaranteed jobs. I think that’s a better approach than encouraging everyone to get four-year college degrees.
On the Issues: It’s Time to Make College Tuition Free and Debt Free by Bernie Sanders.
There’s a big problem with Bernie Sanders’s free college plan by Matthew Yglesias for Vox.
College is not for all by syndicated columnist Robert Samuelson
Can the economy absorb more college graduates? by Anthony Carnevale, Nicole Smith and Jeff Strohl for PBS Newshour.
Meritocracy: Will Harvard Become Free and Fair? by Ron Unz for the Unz Review.
How German higher education controls costs by Kirk Carapezza and Mallory Noe-Payne for WGBH Radio.
American students head for Germany for free college by Kirk Carapezza and Mallory Noe-Payne for WGBH Radio.
Tags: Bernie Sanders, College Tuition, free college tuition, Free Higher Education, Free Public Higher Education, German Free Tuition, German Universities, Germany, Harvard University, Higher Education, Ron Unz, Universities