Go to College for Free – It’s Not a Dream

“Predatory Education” – Ish IsmAverage Student Loan Debt

Education is a money profit scheme,
But education is also a gift?

Education is a predatory lender’s dream,
But education is also a gift?

A good gift does not make the poor poorer.
A good gift does not profit by creating debt.
A good gift does not make broken dreams.
A good gift does not prey on hope.
A good gift does not breed failure.

A good gift brings inspiration.
A good gift creates dreams.
A good gift gives hope.

Education for many people is not a good gift…
… because good gifts are free.

It is with this mindset that I want to buck the current trend of “for-profit colleges” that are springing up like weeds. Even public state colleges can saddle students with a back breaking amount of debt. Where is the desire to invest in America’s future? Our colleges are failing. Student loan debts are approaching crisis levels. There are hard decisions that many high school graduates need to make, including whether or not a college education is worth it.

There is not much a college can do if it produces lawyers and the job market is flooded with law graduates. There is not much a college can do about cuts in elementary education which causes teachers to be fired due to budget cuts. But I believe whole heartedly in the “value” of a college education. However that value has been stolen by state and federal budget cuts along with tuition increases, creating a predatory environment in the education arena.

College education needs to cost less. Students should not graduate college saddled with a ton of student loan debt. The answer is not a radical one… make college education free. Free colleges already exist so creating a free college is not a groundbreaking endeavor. However, making college education free is not popular. In fact it is more likely people will see “for profit” colleges spring up like weeds more than they see free nonprofit colleges growing.

In this blog post I begin by listing some of the reasons tuition has gone up. Next, I detail a few of the models of existing free (or mostly free) colleges. I then give a summary of my idea about how to fund a free college.

student loan debt“According to the College Board, the average price of tuition, fees, room and board for an in-state student at a public college or university is $17,860 for the 2012-13 school year. For out-of-state students, average costs jump to $30,911 while private nonprofit colleges charged $39,518 on average for a single year of education. With sticker prices skyrocketing, it’s no shock that student debt levels and loan default rates are up.” — Bankrate.com

Tuition is Too Damn High

“Today a federal Pell Grant covers only about one-third of what it costs for a public four-year college in state,” says Lauren Asher, president of The Institute for College Access and Success in California. “In the 1980s it covered about half; in the 1970s it covered more than 70 percent.”NPR

Why is tuition so high

Among the more surprising findings:

  • The main reason tuition has been rising faster than college costs is that colleges had to make up for reductions in the per-student subsidy state taxpayers sent colleges. In 2006, the last year for which Wellman had data, state taxpayers sent $7,078 per student to the big public research universities. That’s $1,270 less (after accounting for inflation) than they sent in 2002.
  • Public universities have been reining in overall spending per student in recent years. Flagship public universities’ spending per student has risen from about $12,400 in 1995 to $13,800 in 2006 after accounting for inflation. But since 2002, spending at public colleges has generally not exceeded inflation.
  • Increases in spending were driven mostly by higher administration, maintenance, and student services costs. Public universities spent almost $4,000 per student per year on administration, support, and maintenance in 2006, up more than 13 percent, in real terms over 1995. And they spent another $1,200 a year on services such as counseling, which was up 23 percent. Meanwhile, they spent about $8,700 a year on classroom instruction for each student, up about 9 percent (from U.S. News).

Student loans out of control

debt slave

The only type of household debt that has grown during the recession is student loan debt, which has snowballed into a trillion-dollar bubble as more and more students take on larger debts and many default on their loans. As student debt keeps breaking records, states have continued to cut back in support for public higher education, driving the cost of college up with no sign of relief in sight. – from The Huffington Post

Why would anyone need credit/debt to pay for college? Many students work their way through college yet still need student loans to make ends meet. High administrative costs, high maintenance costs, counseling services, and athletics can all contribute to the increased tuition.

Here are some models for colleges that I will look at when I set-up a free college

Four Year Working College

I like the idea of students working part-time to offset the costs of the college. Does that mean college isn’t free? Well, working 15 to 20 hours a week doing lawn maintenance or other jobs for the campus is still way better than working 35+ hours a week and finishing school with a mountain of debt. In addition, my school will have free room and board, not just free tuition.

Limited Major College

I could not offer tons of majors when the school started. Which majors would I offer when the college first started? I don’t know all the answers right now. I would definitely consider the top majors that students want to get, and I would also consider majors that I think are important but may not pay a lot when a student graduates (theater, education, music, literature, etc). I know theater will be one of the majors simply because I love theater/theatre. Would it be a college that only offered five or six majors? Maybe.

A free school that focused on the arts would be amazing in my opinion… theatre, music, film, painting, pottery, photography, creative writing…

Massive Endowment College

Sure, running the college off of the interest collected from a massive endowment sounds great. Or, running the college off of the rent collected from real estate investments is another great option. Having a large Trust/Foundation to help fund the college is a key.


I love sports… and I realize big name athletic programs bring a lot of attention to schools. Many students go to a school just for the football program or the basketball program.

My school will most likely not offer any sports programs because a majority of sports programs lose money. Some free colleges still carry sports programs, so if there is a way to make it work and students still attend free, then yes… my college will offer some sports teams.

Why Not Just Create a Scholarship Fund?

I don’t want a scholarship fund. It is not an ego thing… it is an economic thing. Education is entering an unhealthy predatory existence. A scholarship offering a free-ride for 4 years sounds amazing to high school students. But it sounds even more amazing to colleges. Why? Because it means a college doesn’t necessarily need to control costs. In fact, why would the college want to control https://i2.wp.com/webpages.scu.edu/ftp/twingo/tactical-media/images/student-loan-debt.jpgcosts if someone else has already guaranteed payment? Running the free college actually controls the costs of the college education in ways that a four-year full ride scholarship cannot.

My college would accept scholarships and student grants that a student may have earned elsewhere, and then pay for the rest of the school costs through endowment, outside grants, etc.

In summary:

My limited experience teaching at the college level seems to suggest that a bad brick and mortar class can do more than an average online class… and a good brick and mortar class is better than a great online class. That may be my bias. But I’ve taken classes online as a student and taught online class components. In addition I have been a student in actual classrooms and taught in actual classrooms. Brick and mortar wins in my experience.

I will create (with a committee/advisory board) either a Trust Fund or Foundation to fund the college. There are amazing people out there who could make this happen. The Trust Fund/Foundation could own stock and/or businesses to pay for the needs of the college. Some free colleges are 300 students or less. I envision something big and crazy that serves several hundred (thousand) students.

Creating a free college is a bucket list item. I believe it is important and I believe it needs to be a brick and mortar school. I am still looking at models of how to make this happen. This is not a wild dream because free colleges already exist. The wild part of it may be the size I hope it will be…

What will it be called? The name doesn’t matter. If it is created in Eastern Ohio… then it could be called Eastern Ohio University (if that name isn’t already taken). If it is created Southern Texas… then maybe it could be called South Texas College. If in Colorado, then maybe the Colorado Institute.

I just believe there needs to be more of these free colleges… and it saddens me to see so many “for-profit” colleges crawling out of the woodwork.

Any ideas other than winning the PowerBall about how to make this happen?

5 thoughts on “Go to College for Free – It’s Not a Dream

  1. I know the music to that song … jangly guitars building into an angry fist-shaking yell-and-scream fest.

    I’m a little biased in this one because my employer is a state-sponsored university. As a result, I get more torn up over the for-profit institutions who seem to really just be a front for loan companies or financial aid harvesters. The difference seemed stark a few years ago when I was offered about $1500 to teach an online for-profit course and about $6000 to teach the same course as an in-person state-college course. Even the latter (not a lot for the work involved) resulted in my salary being about 5% of the total in-state class tuition.

    Also, the non-profit universities, particularly non-state sponsored, seem to be developing the health care pricing system where list prices are ungodly high and, using sliding-scale university grants (i.e. discounts), you get everybody to pay as much as they can afford while the naive pay the most.

    Final rant point: I remember hearing some stat showing how for-profits spend 3-4 more to recruit students and proportionally less to actually educate them.

    You’ve got a big brave vision here and I REALLY want it to succeed.

    1. Something else that state universities have started doing is aggressively recruiting overseas students. Many overseas students pay not just out of state tuition, but sometimes additional international fees. Sometimes it’s to make the university a global entity, and sometimes it’s because the university needs the money.

      Many athletic scholarships offered by universities do not pay for full tuition. I think the big name athletic programs give the illusion that an athletic scholarship means the athlete’s tuition, room, and board is paid for. That’s not always true.

      Thanks for responding with a well thought out rant 🙂

      1. My own state institution has an advantage here: no athletic program.

        I don’t know about fees but at least 20% of my class were foreign born as is 50% of my department. Personally I like that, which starts to delve in a wholly different realm of rant possibilities.

  2. GOOD LUCK!!! College costs are crazy high (I sound super educated I know)! I’d say find the right people to support you. A great leader can find followers and financial backing. I’m going to have my loans paid off by 30, but I have friends that are buried and see no end.

  3. I believe this is just about the most important info for me personally. And now i am glad looking at your content material. But desire to remark on some common things, The website style can be fantastic, the posts is actually fantastic: D. Great employment, cheers

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