Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Free College: You get what you pay for...

American Digest

(Reuters) - Students held rallies on college campuses across the United States on Thursday to protest ballooning student loan debt for higher education and rally for tuition-free public colleges... (Reuters)

Free College?  Sure, given the following conditions:

$  "Free" pays for books, and a building with teachers inside.

You want the pampered, gold-plated experience complete with meditation gardens and sushi bars? Great! But you'll have to pay for those upgrades on your own.  The taxpayer only pays for the classroom part of your experience.

$ The European Model

If we adopted the European model, college would be much cheaper. See here, and here.

In most of the rest of the world, only the largest and most prestigious universities have an actual campus.  A typical good quality university in any Latin American capital looks more like a high school.  Most colleges in Europe hold classes in buildings around the city.  No Dorms, no athletics, no frat parties. Just a solid, no-nonsense learning experience.

$ Same Standard for Academics as for Athletics

Gaining a spot on a college sports team is tough.  The Athletic Department tests you in tryouts, and if you don't meet the standard, you're out.  Applying for a college degree program should work the same way.

No wasting other students' time and taxpayer money. Standardized tests to classify into a degree program. No free-form essays on your feelings, no 'resumes' of your young unaccomplished life. Real exams with real right and wrong answers that test your aptitude for your course of study.

$ It shouldn't be completely free 

Students need to have skin in the game.  I was going to expound on this idea here, but what I wrote sounded pretty much like what we have now.  Too many students are diving in to expensive programs with unrealistic expectations.  Adults are encouraging this, and they need to stop it.

If your goal is to be a social worker, a degree from Harvard doesn't get you anything more than a degree from your local city college, other than a much bigger student loan debt.

$ Extra Credit

Here are some other ideas...

* Extra financial incentives for earning a degree our American economy (or your state's economy) needs.

* Eight semesters and out.  No professional students.  You get eight taxpayer funded semesters, and that's it.  For degree programs requiring more that 120 hours, you can gain the extra support by demonstrated diligence and academic excellence.

* Stop stigmatizing the skilled trades.  We need butchers, bakers, hairdressers, welders, construction workers, mechanics and other skilled occupations that require in-depth training and knowledge but not necessarily a university degree.

* Cut the crap.  Instead of arguing over "Useless College Degrees," set a quota for broad areas of study based upon economic need.  This would mean few slots for government-funded pre-law or political science.

* Get Real.  Some bachelors degrees, such as fine arts, history, sociology, psychology and liberal arts prepare the graduate for a job at Starbucks, a bookstore or a part-time substitute teacher.  But, these degrees are also an important foundation for a Masters and PhD in various fields of study.  High School and college counselors need to make sure students understand this.

We need to have this discussion, but we also need to understand that "free education" is not an end unto itself.  Italy spills over with Doctors of History working as low-wage tour guides, and I have sat in many a South American cafe or wineshop listening to fiery rhetoric spilling forth from a bearded Marxist with a PhD in Philosophy... and no job.  The few who did have a job had to interrupt their diatribe every so often to serve me and the other customers another drink.

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