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Free College? Not So Fast

I have been teaching college for more than a decade so when the President recently announced his plan for free tuition at community college you would think I’d be excited.

Not so much.  Actually, I think “free” college is one of the worst things we could do.  First of all, there is no such thing as “free” someone has to pick up the tab.

But I digress.

Under the President’s plan, a student would get the first two years of community college free if they go at least half-time and maintain a 2.5 GPA.  It does not include books, transportation, and other college living expenses.

I am someone who believes strongly in post-secondary education.  It does not have to be college, but everyone needs an education after high school to compete in the 21st Century.  I also think they should have some skin in the game.

When you have skin in the game, i.e. you’re picking up part of the tab; you tend to treat things a little differently.  In other words, you take it more seriously.  I also think a 2.5 GPA is a little low.  I think it should be at least a 3.0, it doesn’t take a lot of brain power and effort to walk away with a 2.5 GPA.  Or at least, the better grades you get and the harder classes you take, the more of the tab we pick up.  I also like the community service element of the Tennessee model where students have to perform eight hours of community service per semester.

When you have skin in the game, you show up for class, you study harder and you take things a lot more seriously.  It’s been my experience that students that had to pay more of their own freight were usually more dedicated and worked harder than the ones who had someone else footing the bill.

And I won’t even start on the ones who only stayed long enough to get a financial aid refund check and then dropped off the face of the planet, because guess who had the pick up the tab when the federal government couldn’t find the student?  That’s right, the school.

I think there a lot of ways we can bring down the costs of post-secondary education and make it more accessible, we can start with having and adult discussion about student loan reform, but giving it away for free, is never a good idea.



  • malercous

    Germany gives a free university education to any legal resident who can speak the language. Considering that the country was totally destroyed in WWII & now is the world’s #3 exporter, I’d say free education is a great idea. Kinda hard to argue with success.

  • Joe Kerr

    I have taught college to adults for 7 years now… you can always tell the ones who are getting full rides from their employers because they are generally lazy and just skating by. Some companies are more strict than others on results (one student who worked for Verizon told me they would pay 100% if they earned a D). Just sounds like another opportunity for career grifters to create more government waste…