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“Free College” programs vary in how they define both “free” and “college” (npr.org)
90 points by swebs 32 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 174 comments

It would help if people read the article. This has nothing to do with social democratic calls for government provided universal college, it's about scholarship and grant programs sold as "free college" subsidies in various states in the US and how they all sort of fall short of being "free" or being "college".

They have a summary chart: https://apps.npr.org/dailygraphics/graphics/free-college-com...

It seems overly strict. For example, Maryland, Indiana, and Washington cover living costs and fees in addition to tuition for 4-year colleges, but they count it as not being "free college" because you can't use it to enroll half-time or as an adult.

Honestly, the summary chart is all most people should bother to look at here. But I don't know if the article is really claiming "it needs all these or it's not free college" so much as saying "what's offered varies a lot".

I think people have pushed for free college at a national level, and the article is pointing out that the states offerings aren't consistent.

Also, bear in mind that covering older students or half-time students is a big deal: Most lower income families may not be able to full-time school, and may not have gotten the chance to go as soon as they graduated high school, particularly if these programs weren't available at that time. Considering living cost coverage being the other least common component, not being able to work and go to class at the same time is a big deal.

I find the criterion of no college GPA requirement above a 2.0 to be stupidly strict. IMO all should have a requirement higher than this.

I somewhat agree. In Georgia the HOPE scholarship used to guarantee 100% of tuition if you had a 3.0 GPA. They moved to 80% for 3.2 and above because many students took 30 hours, didn't meet the requirements, and dropped out. Although I think the numbers would have been better if the students were actually prepared to be autonomous adults and college students.

I do somewhat agree, especially for the half-time, there is a discontinuous change in the amount of value of this program if it doesn't cover 4 years vs. it not covering living costs. It probably doesn't solve everything but it's much better than the lot most people in the US have with respect to college access.

Some countries have both systems. A network of public-funded universities, in which admission is controlled via standardized tests, plus private ones, in which the government subsidizes the monthly fees of many students in several ways. And both work to a satisfactory level.

I'm particularly grateful of how I've been actually paid to study for the majority of my two Bachelors, my Masters and now my Doctorate. Not a lot, and without all the rights of a salaried worker, but still. The difference between debt and a small net gain (even though you may still require assistance from your family) is astounding for your mental health.

Edit: just an addendum, and it might be particular to my country. Some of these private institutions are very renowned, specially regarding post-graduate courses. However, the public universities are typically considered to be the 'best' ones.

As far as I can tell, the entrance exams serve as a filter of o high-quality candidates (or at least that's the consensus among professors). Another factor is that private universities have a higher share of undergraduate students that work concurrently, which impacts their performance. In any case, the relation cost (to the individual)-quality is not observable.

My province in Canada had a program for some substantial (I think it was 30%) bursary for university. The thing is that it wasn't based off of what you pay, but rather that percentage off of a specified rate. It was about to 1/6 of my actual tuition for an engineering degree.

From the mid 70's until the late 80's, Australia's university education (tuition) was free.

In the late 80's, a scheme was introduced whereby degrees were assigned to a number of bands based on your likely income as a result of that degree. At the time, IIRC, medicine and law were in the top band, while eg. philosophy was in the lowest band. Each band had an annual price for enrollment, but they were iirc, $2500, $3500, and $4500 in maybe 1988 or 1989.

You paid nothing during your studies, but once your taxable income exceeded a threshold, you paid an additional couple of percent on your income tax until the accumulated debt from your education was repaid. This was part of the income tax withheld for most salary earners, and so was largely invisible.

In addition to that, students enrolled in a recognized educational institution get an allowance for living costs. In the 80's and 90's, this was sufficient to live on (food, rent) and you could earn enough extra income to get a social life and textbooks and so on without losing your allowance.

Healthcare is basically gratis in Australia too, so it was quite feasible to attend university with a small amount of part-time work with limited or even no financial support from your family.

Over the last 30 years, the repayment percentage has increased, the starting threshold has gone down, the annual fees have gone up, and the weekly allowance hasn't kept pace with the cost of living. But ...

Even without going to the "extreme" of genuinely gratis tuition, there's plenty of precedent for a system which gives everyone a decent opportunity for education regardless of their financial circumstances.

It seems backward in that you charge less money for lower paying degrees independent of what someone actually makes.

A point that could be discussed endlessly because there are so many ways to look at it. I would like to note that by not looking at what someone actually makes you remove that particular incentive to hide income and you remove that particular disincentive on becoming wildly successful in spite of the lower-paying degree.

It's also worth pointing out that the higher-paying degree holder still generally comes out way ahead over a career-length timeline.

That would just incentivize people to pile onto the perceived high value programs like when everyone got into CS during the first dotcom bubble. Not a fitting solution for an institution intended to develop capable members of society rather than just making money.

Your comment would only make sense if higher education institutions didn't evaluated students throughout the whole degree. If a school ends up graduating individuals that are not capable members of society then clearly the problem is not how many freshmen enrolled in a course.

I honestly don't know anyone in my (australian) high-school cohort who even thought about the varying costs of under-grad degrees. It's such a small difference, and it's all covered under HECS anyway.

I am aware that this is not what the NPR article is about but, can someone please change my mind on this? The vast majority of college degrees in the US do not have a return on investment. Many people are struggling because they studied information that is not a marketable skill from a university that accepts low-quality students. Why is the solution that the nation just foots the bill to make a bad investment instead of the individual?

> Why is the solution that the nation just foots the bill to make a bad investment instead of the individual?

Almost the only economic reason in a rational choice model [0] for a public program is the existence of externalities that justify action that would not occur in a market system without government intervention to internalize the externalities; in this case, that would be diffuse social benefit that offsets the negative expected financial return to the student if they paid full price in the market.

Of course assessing the existence and, particularly, value of such externalities is, in practice highly subjective.

[0] which is known to be inaccurate, and real-world irrationality may provide additional reasons.

Even people who get degrees with good employment rates go into a ton of debt (by non-American standards) for them unless they have a scholarship.

I don't understand your point here. If your degree has a return on investment it means that you can pay back your loans because you have a higher paying job that was a direct result of your degree. You will go into a ton of debt to become a nurse but you will make up your investment in salary eventually. If you spend 100k dollars on an art history degree from Univ. of South Carolina Aiken your job prospects have not changed from someone who never attended college at all.

Well there's the argument that it educates the citizenry and thus strengthens our democracy.

disclosure: I never went to college. I was a C student in highschool.

I started studying 15 years ago to be an engine mechanic. I apprenticed with an occupational outlet in my state that paired me up with an 'old-timer' named Simon.

I was paid a regular wage to simply show up, and pay close attention and learn. for the first year or two i had no major responsibilities outside of oil changes or other pretty rote things. Finally one day I had the responsibility to do a major overhaul on a large diesel generator on a job site. I showed up, and Simon handed me a sheet of customer specifications and rework specs. I didnt realize until lunchtime that I had been crawling all over that engine for 4 hours, doing all the work myself. Every individual thing I did was part of what I'd learned, and I did it without so much as a second thought. I did it to Union spec, and I was troubleshooting real problems.

When the time came, I signed off on the work that day and certified as a master mechanic that week.

I guess what im getting at, is that at no time was there a question about my education, or my pay. Why is college different? How is it different? Why are there so many shady players?

I think the main difference is that in University your assignments have negative economic value. Even doing an oil change is beneficial work to the company, but in University you need to pay a TA to spend time grading your essay which has zero value.

This article made me realise the gap between France and the US, whereas free college is rare in the US, in France people are fighting and getting on strike so there isn't any selection in free universities.

The end of grant aided study was introduced to the UK from Australia. One of the worst exports we ever gave the world. Scotland, bless them, ignored it.

And, the generation of politicians in Australia who introduced it? Got free university education to a man (and I do mean man)

Bastards. (I write, as a recipient of a UK grant funded degree in the 1980s)

My dad and his two older brothers fought in World War 2 for the U.S. They grew up poor during the Depression. After the war all three of them went to college for free as part of the GI benefits. The three of them went on to have good careers and lived well.

The two younger brothers did not go to war. They were not able to go to college. They ended up poorer and died younger than the older brothers. They did not prosper nearly as well as the three older brothers.

We call the World War 2 generation the greatest ever. I think they were the greatest generation because they ended up with the greatest opportunities not because they were more special than other generations. Government that cares for its people and seeks to create a fair society is what creates great generations.

Universal access to healthcare that is free at the point of service and universal access to higher education for those who are qualified are not too expensive. It just requires a shift in priorities.

"Government" is just a bunch of people. People in power caring that the benefits of increasing wealth and technology of society is widely shared is what creates great generations. Having a whole society share the burden of fighting in a war, with basically all males of a certain age fighting together in the field, I think created bounds between classes that the US has not had since then.

I would assume your ideas on why your younger uncles did not succeed would be more likely correct than some stranger on the internet, but have you considered that a bigger factor in their lack of success is that they did not get to fight in the war, not the fact that they did not go to college. Being in that huge cohort of men who fought in the war is sort of like everyone going to the same undergrad. Being able to form strong bonds quickly to millions of people would surely be a great advantage in life.

The war was detrimental to my dad. He was fucked up by it. Became and alcoholic and was part of a generation that never could talk about emotional things. He saw combat, unlike the vast majority of servicemen. You look at his warbook (sort of like a year book for school but this for a battalion) at the end you'll see a lot of names underlined in red. Those are the ones that died that he knew. My impression is that it was a lack of opportunity that prevented my uncles from achieving more.

Seems like a reasonable assessment. Killing other people and having close friends killed affects people in very negative ways. I had not considered that most US servicemen did not even see combat in WWII.

Its too bad that most states in the US have cut back enormously on their support of colleges and the prices have gotten out of control. Having such a large number of people start out life so highly indebted and many responsible people not going because of the cost seems like a really bad strategy for a successful society.

You might be right about universal healthcare, etc., but the reason people call it the greatest generation is because it recovered from the worst economic depression in economic history and saved the free world.

> In the book, Brokaw wrote, "it is, I believe, the greatest generation any society has ever produced". He argued that these men and women fought not for fame and recognition, but because it was the "right thing to do".

That title doesn't have to do with their post-war fortunes.


Yes, I know this is the reason. My experience with the people from that generation is that there was nothing special as such with them. They ended up having the greatest opportunities due to GI Bill and other programs.

My dad didn't join up because it was the right thing to do. Neither did his brothers. They joined because they got drafted and at that time, at that age, if you were a guy and not in the military there was a lot of social pressure put on it. Like, "What is your excuse?"

The title partially has to do with post war fortunes because of the great economic expansion that occurred after the war. That generation did build great things and greatly enhanced the way of life of the nation. I think this came from the opportunity government gave them and not from being innately special.

By the way, they didn't save the free world. The vast majority of the fighting and killing in the ETO was done by the Soviet Union. They are the ones who won the war. The British and Americans helped but did not do the bulk of the fighting.

Saved the free world. That one always makes me shiver.

Operation Paperclip?

The GI Bill still exists, for those who serve. The Post-9/11 GI Bill got me through college debt free.

Yes, but at the end of WW2 some 15 million people were able to benefit from it. In terms of percent of the population this was vastly more people than those who benefit today.

Where I come from (Slovenia) you only pay for college when your grades aren’t good enough to get in for real or you have to retake exams. Universities don’t even accept colleges that take tuition and people take your degree less seriously if you go to one of those.

The perception is that paying tuition would misalign incentives and harm learning because how can a business fail a customer? Imagine taking 6 figures from someone and then saying “No, sorry, you flunk out”

Works pretty well and yes I know we pay with taxes and that’s okay. That’s what taxes are for: public good.

Can you explain a bit more about how the grade system works? College is generally equivalent to uni in the states.

I might br mistranslating concepts.

The idea is that you have a university, like NYU, which is comprised of colleges, like comp sci, economics etc. You go to your specific college, like major in something, and they count you as their student. You also apply to colleges specifically but are then also a student of the university.

There are also independent colleges. Some of them are good enough that they eventually get accepted into a university. Some aren’t. Sometimes the university itself founds a new college like a new major and builds it up. Like when I studied CompSci it had been some 10 years since it became its own college, but was still physically hosted by the college of electronics and the college of mathematics. It first became a course within those some time in the 80s. Nowadays it has its own buildings and stuff.

At the same time there was a multimedia college founded around the time I went to uni. Features video and stuff but also a lot of web development. They were not allowed to join the university and take tuition (I think government only funds universities). Uou can get a college degree in webdev, but not a university degree in webdev. So it’s more like a post high school vocational education.

I believe in broad strokes we have the german education system if that helps.

I think you're using the college in the UK sense and dylz meant "college as in undergraduate study institution, where you get your first degree". but I might be wrong.

Also I've hardly heard of independent institutions joining universities here in Germany. Maybe you thought of the Hasso Plattner Institute "HPI was founded in 1998 and is the first, and as of 2018 the only entirely privately funded faculty[3] in Germany." So the University of Potsdam has a private IT faculty.

What concerns me is how the US college system created a market where colleges have been without price controls for a long time. These grant mechanisms seem like another way to just give colleges the ability to crank up fees and drive up prices. Effectively, the "solutions" seem to take the guaranteed loans the students have to pay and making the public pay for it.

Have there been any other systems that have successfully converted out of such a out-of-control market without direct price controls from a central authority?

Guaranteed student loans did most of the damage. If we stopped doing that, prices would almost immediately fall to reasonable levels.

That may fix prices, but doesn't fix the problem of giving a wide swath of a nation's population the opportunity to attend college.

The solution for that is bringing the state college systems back to life, with only token fees low enough so anyone who gets admitted can attend without a serious financial burden.

> That may fix prices, but doesn't fix the problem of giving a wide swath of a nation's population the opportunity to attend college.

No country has really figured out how to solve both of those problems simultaneously on a large scale.

The US has high prices, but also one of the highest rates of higher education in the developed world. In addition, it also has provided people from all racial and ethnic backgrounds not just with the theoretical opportunity to earn a degree, but with the tools needed to actually deliver on that in practice. For all the faults of the US educational system (especially at the primary and secondary level), it performs much better than its European counterparts on this criterion if you look at the actual rates of degrees granted.

You blithely say that no country has it figured out, but I'd note estimates of covering all tuition for a year to be $58-$75B[1]. The cost of the defense budget increase alone this year was $60B - the total budget is some $700B. So even with the inefficient (nonexistent?) cost controls of our current student loan system, it seems quite feasible in the US to rebalance budget priorities. If one were to start putting more serious cost control strings (e.g. no more than x% in admin budget) on a direct funding stream to public universities, I suspect the cost could get even lower.


Yeah. To add insult to injury, Trump's useless tax cut actually could have paid for free college for everyone instead: http://slatestarcodex.com/2017/12/05/the-tax-bill-compared-t...

I’ve got a big problem with this item:

— Helps low-income students cover living expenses and covers fees in addition to tuition: "[Students] have to eat. They have to have shelter. They have to buy books," says Tiffany Jones, director of higher education policy at The Education Trust. "If a politician is selling a program saying, 'I'm making college free,' and they're not dealing with any of that stuff except for tuition, that can be really problematic." —

Plenty of people work their way through college, and with the burden reduced to room and board, waiting tables a few nights a week often does the trick.

For what it's worth, Free College works pretty well in most of Europe.

After this beginning:

> To millions of parents and students, they're magical words: free college. But is the idea pure fantasy?

I had trouble to take the article seriously, given that it does not even mention the free colleges in other countries.

Can anyone go to these free colleges in Europe? One of the problems in the US is that we assume that anyone should be able to go to college, so you have a bunch of non-selective schools that allow 50-90% of applicants to matriculate as long as they're able to pay.

As I understand the European systems, there are high-stakes tests that determine who gets to go to these colleges. Is that incorrect?

> Can anyone go to these free colleges in Europe? One of the problems in the US is that we assume that anyone should be able to go to college, so you have a bunch of non-selective schools that allow 50-90% of applicants to matriculate as long as they're able to pay. As I understand the European systems, there are high-stakes tests that determine who gets to go to these colleges. Is that incorrect?

That is correct. The US has one of the highest rates of higher education (of European countries, only Luxembourg has a higher percentage of working-age adults with a university degree).

They're also heavily stratified by race, though this is something which isn't discussed much in Europe (because talking about race is somewhere between taboo and outright illegal[0]). In the US, by contrast, there's much less of a racial divide in rates at which higher degrees are awarded.

[0] several countries have prohibited collection of meaningful data on race and ethnicity for public universities

In Germany:

~ 40% meet the requirements to go to any university (for a long time this was primarily through finishing the Gymnasium, the higher-level high-school path, but nowadays it's half and half this vs other paths, most of which end with a big set of exams and an overall grade from those)

additional ~ 10% meet the requirements for a "university of applied sciences"

Universities are allowed to set a grade limit from the exams for individual majors if they'd be oversubscribed otherwise, with some adjustment for time spent waiting for a spot and other criteria chosen by the university (activities outside school, existing experience, introduction letter, some invite candidates for interviews, ...).

If there's a limit like that or not is really mixed. E.g. at the university I studied at, some CS-related majors were limited, others weren't, chemistry, physics and mathematics were unrestricted but "bio sciences" was restricted, ... Some university institutes allow fairly heavy oversubscription and "solve" the problem by hard required exams in the first year - good for people with bad school grades but skill in the field, annoying for those that misjudged their skills. Changing majors isn't as common as it was as far as I know, but still something that happens quite a bit, especially early on.

Medical fields are a special case and centrally managed, so you don't apply to an individual university but to a central authority (and give them some preferences where you'd like to study), with again a lot of priority given to grades.

Private universities where students pay for classes exist too, but they're a niche thing.

And also in Latin America, at least in Argentina, in Chile they fuck you up with debt AFAIK

It works, but it is hardly the silver bullet for higher education HN wants it to be. The biggest problem is the lack of incentive for staff to deliver quality in teaching.

Free college does not make the opportunity costs of bad and protracted education go away.

I teach at a community college. Our funding per student has been declining for 15 years. We raise tuition as a result. We have become more like a business. We need students to pay the bills. Our focus is on passing students and retaining them. It’s all about passing rate. In such an environment standards go down. Instead of society and the ideal of knowledge being our client it is the student who is the client. I can no longer be a real teacher who gives real grades with real expectations. I need a job and this shift in focus is bad and degrades colleges.

>Our funding per student has been declining for 15 years. We raise tuition as a result. We have become more like a business

I thought the Obama administration did a lot to fund community colleges. Was that just all posturing and no actual substance?

There was talk of making community college free but that never passed. It would likely have been tied to success rate as defined by the Department of Education. One pernicious stat is that we are judged by graduation rate. This means a student who comes to us for two years and transfers to a 4 year university but does not formally get an AA is counted as a failure on our part. My experience is that most of the metrics used are useless but well intentioned and increasingly funding and whatnot are starting to get tied to these metrics. I'll optimize to satisfy whatever my employment is based on. In the old days we just taught our classes and pretty much everyone was expected to have high standards. Not anymore.

> One pernicious stat is that we are judged by graduation rate.

What were you judged on before this? How do you evaluate the quality of a teacher? My mom is an elementary school teacher and she talks about similar things that the schools are pushing hard to have the highest graduation rates.

That sounds like a dangerous stat to judge by, since as you and she are noting the teacher's jobs are now tied to how many kids pass (and that the number keeps going up), not how well they teach.

> It’s all about passing rate. In such an environment standards go down.

You would have thought that standards would go up, in order for them to get better grades. But I think you'd need standardised tests at the end of college for that, and I think outside some vocational professions nobody does that.

> The biggest problem is the lack of incentive for staff to deliver quality in teaching.

Not sure I follow you.

Does it mean that you believe that TAs/Professors teach better if they have a higher salary and that colleges need to be expensive for this to happen?

It does seem to be worded that way.

I disagree with that statement, but there is still a financial incentive issue. Having gained your first degree, you have a choice between starting to earn real money by leaving academia or starting a PhD (possibly via MA/MSc), which might be self funded or on a meagre stipend unless it is in something very marketable. Following that, probably 3 years in a postdoc position at the same salary you could have been paid 4 years ago. So now 7 years on, you might be able to get a lectureship, still only earning as much as those who have finished their 1 or 2 year milkround graduate training position.

As you approach 40, you might become a reader, at this point your salary might be at parity with your peers from your undergraduate days who are working in charities or government jobs, but all your private sector peers are earning way more.

As you enter your 50s, you might finally become a professor. At this point, your salary matches those old chums you had who went into business, but only because their income peaked about a decade ago, and you have now caught up.

At pretty much any point along this journey, you will have options to jump ship and earn more.

Why would American college staff be so hilariously bad, compared to European staff?

Does it? I got a chance to take a look inside and I'm no longer sure about it. Corruption is rampant (not in relation to academic results, but other things like employment, grants etc), favourism is flourishing, and huge amount of money is wasted instead of used to help the students. I personally blame the lack of monetary incentives.

EDIT: What about having a discussion instead of just downvoting? I presented my observation and expected to talk about it, downvoting isn't helping anyone and my comment is on topic.

EDIT2: Seems like some of you misunderstood me, probably my mistake, sorry about that. I'm not trying to convince anyone, I'm not trying to argue any point, I'm asking a question - to see if others' have similar experience or not. That's it, no claims to prove.

Can you specify which country or university your experience is based on? In my experience (Austria) there were issues sometimes, but nothing which would even by a long shot could be called "rampant". Here it is more of an issue that there is a lack of funding and not much political will to increase it. The amount of the GDP which goes to funding universities is lower than average recommended by the world bank [citation needed].

Edit: I couldn't find the recommendations but here is a chart by the world bank: https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SE.XPD.TOTL.GD.ZS

The most recent data is from 2014 though, interesting nonetheless.

I'm Czech, living in Czechia. I'm not going to say more, sorry - I'm not trying to convince anyone about my story, I am trying to collect more data, see if other people have similar experiences.

Thank you, that gives more context! It is just anecdotal and a few years back, but last time I spoke to students in Prague they didn't bring it up as there being that big issues. Is this something that changed in the last years or has it been that way for longer?

I am also Czech and do NOT have similar experience. I am very satisfied with the level of education I received and with the environment I was able to be part of at my university in Prague.

Are you sure? If you've attended any of the top 3 universities, you just were shielded from it; generally IT/math/science related faculties work well, it's the social-related faculties where it works really badly, but still, you won't see it as a student. I'm happy to tell you more in private.

The problems you described aren't helped by making colleges not free.


> huge amount of money is wasted instead of used to help the students

is arguably worse in the US - and it's the students' money.

Corruption is rampant (not in relation to academic results, but other things like employment, grants etc), favourism is flourishing, and huge amount of money is wasted instead of used to help the students.

Sounds like SNAFU: Situation Normal -- All Fouled Up.

Humans seem unable to escape favoritism, etc. The older I get, the less convinced I am that this is entirely bad. As I get healthier, I seem to get more "likeable." I find myself wondering exactly how much "I just like you" is actually some form of shorthand assessment.

I don't know the answer. But I'm quite certain that where humans are involved, you can count on it being a morass. You can also count on some people objecting to something about it, even while others claim it is essentially perfect.

>EDIT: What about having a discussion instead of just downvoting?

What about providing concrete examples and citations for your claims? How did you take a look inside exactly? What did you compare it to?

I did not compare it to anything. I was an IT employee at a faculty for a while. I can't cite since there isn't anything formal going on, it's just an observation and since I'm asking, I'm not going to support any argument, since I'm not arguing it's true - I'm just asking others if they have similar observations or not.

I don't think this is significantly different between European and American and universities.

Your argument was probably downvoted because you didn't support your claim very well, and blaming everything on the invisible hand is not a popular dogma.

Try linking to evidence rather than making widespread assertions. You have three claims here; can you find URLs to reputable sources to back each of them up?

I don't have first-hand experience with US colleges, but you hear complaints about the same issues from there too. I'm not sure what about the power structure is actually different to dis-incentivize those, from what I see it's very similar?

(I also wouldn't describe the places I've seen first-hand as strongly as you did, but those issues existed to some degree)

Are you saying all of this does not happen in paid colleges?

Not at all. Introducing a new reason for it to happen isn't going to help, though.

What is the new reason? I don't really have the impression that students paying fixes anything about the incentives for individuals in the system.

I really don't understand this meme. Most of the non-Anglosphere developed world has free or very low-cost education. Typically they aren't full-inclusive luxury resorts like colleges in the U.S., but they do provide good educations for 95% of the population.

The idea that the U.S., the single wealthiest country in the history of civilization, "can't afford" to make college affordable is just plain wrong. In fact, it was affordable until just a few decades ago. The only reason it isn't affordable now is because the profit motive has been introduced into a space where it doesn't belong.

Please read the article and not just the title. It is not stating that tax funded college is infeasible. It is describing gotchas of various state's subsidy programs.

I did read the article, thanks. HN comments do not, and have never been, solely limited to the exact topic highlighted in the article. Indeed, some of the best comments in the history of this site were tangentially-related to the link.

And in fact, in many of these countries, private (paid) universities have quite bad popularity - it’s where people who can’t pass in the “free” one go, with very few exceptions.

I mean, there are so many examples of fully or almost fully covered tuition around the world that it makes me wonder how such meme is still alive.

I get the same feeling here in Poland.

I attended a "free" university and one time I got to talking with one of the professors teaching AI about other schools, private colleges in particular. She said that she does a few classes there and the level is way lower than at the "free" university. She shared a felling she had that since the people there pay for the classes they expect the teachers to magically make the knowledge and skills appear in their heads instead of putting in the work themselves.

The sentiment of paying for admission because you couldn't get in on merit alone was shared among a sizeable amount of my colleagues and other professors.

What are the requirements to attend a public, "free" university in Poland? Or, what percent of applicants are accepted?

The percentages depend heavily on the specific university and on what you want to study.

How this works is that you have a set number of spots. Each person that applies for a spot gets points for high school grades, additional achivements, social conditions (I think), etc.

Everyone gets sorted by points. If there's 100 spots, top 100 applicants, point-wise, get in.

There are certainly downsides to those programs that progressives in the US would hate, though. For example, in Germany, part of why it works is that they have a fairly strict "tracked" system post-elementary school that's kind of classist, that makes gaining admittance harder.

Plus they don't really 'support' students in terms of counseling or special programs or anything the way US universities do; it's expected that you're an adult, and if you can't hack it, you're out. In practice, lack of support means students who come from more affluent, educated backgrounds have a large advantage over first-generation college students.

It's an advantage to have wealthy and/or educated parents no matter what kind of system you have. But in Germany your chances are much better than in the US. No one in my family went to university before me and I had disadvantages because of that. But you still have excellent opportunities and just lack the advise of experienced parents/friends and perhaps are more risk-averse (but with Bafög you'll get some help there (monetary support if your parents don't earn enough)).

Interestingly, Germany has a lower-than-average drop-out rate (https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/docserver/eag_highlights-2008-...).

On the other hand, US and European higher education are not directly comparable. (https://www.usnews.com/education/best-global-universities/ar..., https://www.usnews.com/education/best-global-universities/ar...)

Yeah, I'm not saying it's a worse system. I'm just pointing out that in practice, there are compromises.

> In practice, lack of support means students who come from more affluent, educated backgrounds have a large advantage over first-generation college students.

I'm pretty sure poor students would prefer no support and no debt over a bit of support for huge debt.

Without support, I could not have gone to university, and the debt is taken as a tiny fraction of my salary (currently 0, as I don't earn enough). I absolutely would not have preferred no support and no debt.

Some would. But if you come out of it with no degree because of a lack of support, "at least it was free for you to get nothing" may be cold comfort.

Well, it's still better than having gone into debt to not get a degree. The support is only worth the money if it was the difference between you making it and not making it. That will be true for some people. Others won't make it even with the support. For them, "support but expensive" is worse than "no support but free".

They do incur debt. Or work part time, or both, because they have to live while studying.

What's this support that German students don't get?

There is a state support program for Students (starting at High school age if necessary, covering higher education and apprenticeship programs) whose parents combined income is below the threshold.

It‘s called Bafög (if I recall correctly that’s for Bundesausbildungsförderungsgesetz, Federal Apprenticeship/Study Subsidary Law)

Depending on financial background it‘s partly paid as loan / gift. With low interest and payment schedules linked to the actual income after exiting the program.

Norway has a similar program. Students have a stipend that doesn't need repaid: It is just enough to live a very frugal life (and in some cases, not quite enough). I'm pretty sure repayment is dependent on what you earn afterwards.

And as a bonus, if someone is willing to live and work up north for some years (5 or 10, I can't remember), you won't have to repay the loans.

Well, part of it is just the sheer scale of US education institutions. If we define University students as everyone enrolled and seeking a Bachelor's or higher then the number of University students in the US is greater than the total number University students in all of Europe. Also about 70% of high school graduates in the US go on to at least attempt a Bachelor's according to the NCES where as in Germany, for instance, only about 30% do. Germany has the highest number of University students of any EU member nation. On top of all this, a typical American university education is more expensive than its European counterpart.

So to start providing this education at no personal cost we would have to come up with a rather large sum of money that is not currently being allocated. Roughly on par with the total educational costs of Europe. What do you cut or where do you raise taxes to make that allotment? It would be a huge readjustment.

I feel like a 'luxury resort' could take that 130 square foot dorm bedroom and put fewer than four people into it.

The US is only allowed to export ideas to the rest of the world. Because we're the best country on Earth and everyone should follow our example.

The moment you dare suggest we follow the example of other countries you get a lot of handwringing about how the US just isn't like those other countries and it would never work here. Maybe if we privatize college more eventually it'll work better, don't worry about all those millions of people deep in debt.

What percentage of the population is able to take advantage of the free college? What are the job prospects like for those who don't go to college?

I can examplify with Sweden, which I know, where 43% of people aged 25-64 has "some" amount of higher education, and 27% has at least 3 years of higher education.

But way more than this are "able to", as you put it. In order to be eligble, one needs passing grades in a high percentage of high school subjects, including some mandatory ones. But failing that, one can always study for that credit later in life.

> I can examplify with Sweden, which I know, where 43% of people aged 25-64 has "some" amount of higher education, and 27% has at least 3 years of higher education.

Just for contrast, that's much lower than the US, where 44% of the population has completed an undergraduate degree equivalent.

And as pointed out by others in this thread, Sweden (like other European countries) does not have a great track record when it comes to ensuring equality for people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. Yes, in theory, these programs might be available to everyone, but when stratification occurs in the education system from a very young age, it makes for much larger differences down the line.

Taking Germany as the example I know about.

> What percentage of the population is able to take advantage of the free college?

About 30%. Note that this is roughly the same as the percentage of Americans with a college degree.

So it's not some crazy cut-throat system and is not a lottery. Basically, people who know they want to go to college, plan ahead, and apply themselves, can mostly do so. People who want the opportunity sometimes don't get it, but that's true everywhere.

And there are a ton of stories of people moving from the non-university track into the university track even later in life. So there's a lot of mobility if you apply yourself.

> What are the job prospects like for those who don't go to college?

See the example OECD dataset here for "upper secondary; non-tertiary": https://data.oecd.org/unemp/unemployment-rates-by-education-... tl;dr: quite good. Better than or comparable to the US.

"Germany proves tuition-free college is not a silver bullet for America’s education woes": (https://qz.com/812200/is-free-college-possible-germany-shows...)

"German university enrollment rose by 22% as tuition disappeared...—while the number of Germans who opt instead for vocational education has declined. On the other hand, the cost to taxpayers of subsidizing higher education went up 37%. [Later:] ...The shift to dependence on government funding, combined with the increase in enrollment, has also meant a 10% decline in spending per student in the last few years, the OECD reports. Today, German public schools spend about $16,895 per student, compared with $27,924 per student in the United States."

"In Germany, low-income students can apply for grants and loans totaling around €650 a month ($580) to pay for living expenses. Since almost all students live off campus, this creates an unanticipated outcome: Even in a country where universities don’t charge tuition, students are still graduating with debt....68% of German students work,... and “students from a lower socioeconomic background try to study faster.” Students are also more likely to choose practical subjects like marketing or human resources. Meanwhile medicine and law degrees, which take longer and therefore cost more, remain careers mostly for the wealthy."

"Three-quarters of German’s adult college graduates have children who also earn university degrees, Woessmann said, compared to a 25% of adults who don’t have degrees. (In all, 57% of the equivalent of high school graduates go on to college here, the OECD reports, compared to what the Bureau of Labor Statistics says is 69% of their American counterparts.)"

Then, there's "In Norway, where college is free, children of uneducated parents still don’t go", (https://hechingerreport.org/in-norway-where-college-is-free-...).

> So it's not some crazy cut-throat system and is not a lottery. Basically, people who know they want to go to college, plan ahead, and apply themselves, can mostly do so. People who want the opportunity sometimes don't get it, but that's true everywhere.

Limiting free college to 30% of the population would never work in the U.S. By 2025, more than half of high school graduates will be minorities, mostly socioeconomically disadvantaged minorities. Without getting into the "why," these groups score substantially lower on the metrics (test scores, sometimes straight-up IQ tests) that Germany uses to select the 30% of students who have access to college. To ensure that enough disadvantaged minorities would have access to free college, the U.S. would need the large majority of high school graduates to go to free college. That would make the program much more expensive than in Germany.

Applying the German system to the U.S. unchanged would not only be politically impossible, but would be hugely regressive. It would be a massive taxpayer-funded program that would benefit primarily students that are advantaged to begin with.

For the $75-billion estimated cost of free college, we could write a $5,000 check for each and every child under the poverty line, every year. That seems a lot better use of money than ensuring that a bunch of primary middle/upper middle class kids get free college.

> Limiting free college to 30% of the population would never work in the U.S. By 2025, more than half of high school graduates will be minorities, mostly socioeconomically disadvantaged minorities. Without getting into the "why," these groups score substantially lower on the metrics (test scores, sometimes straight-up IQ tests) that Germany uses to select the 30% of students who have access to college. To ensure that enough disadvantaged minorities would have access to free college, the U.S. would need the large majority of high school graduates to go to free college. That would make the program much more expensive than in Germany.

It's a shame you're being downvoted, because you're right. To put it another way: the reason Germany, France, Spain, etc. are able to provide free education is twofold:

1) They provide education to a much smaller portion of the population than the US does (~25% in Germany compared to >45% the US).

2) They're content with having a system which reinforces racial inequalities from a very young age.

The US education system, for all its faults, is actually quite good at providing opportunities for minorities in higher education, and the rates of degrees awarded bear this out. It's unpopular to point this out, but that's something that the German/French/etc. models don't do at all. Yes, the opportunities are available to people from any racial background in theory, but in practice, they mask significant racial disparities under the guise of being "colorblind".

I think you might have misunderstood: About 30% of people are able to do the work, but it isn't limiting free college to 30% of the population. Instead, it is about 30% of the population that applies themselves to take advantage of it. If it comes up that 50% of the population qualifies for the education and follows through with it, the number would change to 50%. For many, all that is needed is to be upfront about what is required and make sure lower level schooling can provide what is needed.

I'll add that you could take care of a lot of the rest of the things by having a strong support system.

Only about 30% of americans have college degrees as it is. Not as much would change.

If you take some other countries examples as well and include things like trade schools and things that would be an associates degree elsewhere, your number would be much higher. These sorts of programs are tracked seperately.

If roughly the same percentage of people end up with a college degree, then what would be the advantage of the US changing to that system? If it produces the same result, it's not really better. It's just a different way of accomplishing the same thing.

The American system is a money making machine that uses education merely as a lure. Everything is constructed around maximizing income for the administrative staff: Pay the teachers as little as possible with no promise of tenure, attract as many wealthy foreign students as possible, raise the tuition by many multiples of the inflation rate, use athletics to create prestige.

In one case, people that went to college but were not able to take advantage of the degree would still not have a crippling debt to pay.

The loans are a problem, but we could fix that by making them dischargeable in bankruptcy and having the government stop subsidizing them. Then banks would have to make a realistic assessment of a student's ability to repay, loan rates and college prices would adjust accordingly.

But, if I go to college and dick around and fail out, why should taxpayers have to pay my tuition?

If I plant wheat and some of the plants don't produce fruit, should I stop watering all of them and demand that they each find its own water source ?

If I try breeding chickens and some of them stop laying eggs, should I abandon the whole endeavor and start buying my chickens from the local supermarket because some chicken are dicking around?

All national efforts are going to have some waste, it's inevitable and I think we can more than comfortably afford it. Our job should not be to scrutinize every detail in order to minimize waste (of course we should be doing that as well) but rather to make sure that every wheat seed and every chicken have all they need in order to fully develop themselves to the best of their abilities.

Are you saying humans are basically farm animals to be tended to by the government? Personally I would prefer to be considered a sentient being in my own right with my own rights and responsibilities.

There is a reason we expend so much energy and care in looking after wheat and chickens. It's so we can eat them.

It's called a metaphor, typically children start distinguishing them in written speech at about 4yo.

It is a very telling metaphor in terms of attitudes regarding relative roles of individuals and government. I'm not sure if you're American or not, but many Americans would recoil at the idea that they should be treated like a farm animal.

An animal on a farm might be treated well (at the discretion of the farmer) (until they are slaughtered), but they aren't free. An animal in the wild has freedom, but not security.

America heavily favors the latter, or at least it used to, times may be a'changing.

>An animal in the wild has freedom, but not security.

An animal that gives up its freedom for security deserves neither.

I agree that the original metaphor was inappropriate because it compares people to domesticated animals and crops that have no free will and would not exist without the farm, not to mention the personal freedom implications of equating citizens to domesticated animals.

You're grasping at the words trying to force an irrelevant and unsubstantiated point. No, I'm not saying to treat people like animals, on the contrary, I was arguing for allowing people the dignity to study without debts.

And what I'm trying to tell you is that living as a ward of the state is not something many people would consider to be dignified.

If you make student loans dischargeable via bankruptcy you will basically eliminate lending for college. The issue is that the vast majority of people have ~0 assets when they graduate from college.

There would be a huge incentive for all of these people to declare bankruptcy, discharge the debt, and then wait around the ~7 years for the bankruptcy to disappear from their credit report. As long as they don't want to buy a house during that period it wouldn't even be much of an inconvenience.

7 years is a long time and credit is necessary for many more things than just buying a house. People will also need cars, many apartments will do credit checks, as will many jobs.

If what you say is true, why don't people graduate college, live large on credit cards for a few years, and then just declare bankruptcy? There's zero consequence to it right?

Edit: This would also put further pressure on banks to make sure the loans are not so burdensome that this becomes an attractive option. Theoretically, anyone could do this with any loan (although taking out a loan with the intention of declaring bankruptcy is fraud and would go badly), but most people don't, because it's easier to just repay the loan than deal with 7 years of hassles b/c of bankruptcy.

In reality, credit is not essential for maintaining a pretty standard US lifestyle. I've had what I assume is terrible credit my whole life (judging from the fact that I get turned down for things like checking accounts, and had to debate my bank to get a secured credit card months after depositing the proceeds of selling a company) and I've been pretty much just fine. I rented apartments no problem (pay your rent, get reference letters from landlords), managed to rent cars when I needed them, and simply didn't use credit cards (I still don't understand what the purpose of a credit card is). I got 3 mortgages (in 3 different places) during that time frame too. Maybe it's harder to get one now? Who cares? You're 25, wait a couple years to buy a house.

(Preemptively: for almost that entire time, my family was living basically paycheck-to-paycheck, and our largest expenses were rent and food).

People do leave college and rack up enormous credit card debt. The reason everyone doesn't BK is that there's a social stigma to it, and also, in general, the average American consumer does not have a good idea how the credit system works. Read Patrick McKenzie about this sometime. If more people understood how generous our creditor/debitor laws were to consumers, or how clownshoes disorganized consumer finance was (why would they give a shit? they're judged almost entirely on growth), people would take much more ruthless advantage of it.

But there's also a difference between accumulating $50,000 of revolving credit debt over a span of 5-10 years and six figures based on a decision you make when you are eighteen years old.

Random question for Thomas or the peanut gallery: would you be interested in reading How Consumer Credit Works if I were to lock myself in a room for a couple of days to write it?

I would pay money for it, but mostly because I've already gotten that from you and it has probably saved my family more money than you could ever charge for it.

I would pay both money and time to read that. I still occasionally revisit your comment about FCRA, just in case I ever have to use it: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7135833

I, for one, would be interesting in reading almost anything that involves you locking yourself in a room for a couple of days to write.

Even on a topic like consumer finance where I consider myself fairly knowledgable.

I'd definitely read it.

Yes, and I would have my whole family read it as well. And friends.

YOUR FUTURE: Patrick! Someone has proposed making student loans divestable via bankruptcy proceedings. Gimme an in depth, thoughtful essay on the proposal!


Yes. It will be insanely popular.


It sounds like you're comparing no credit to bad credit.

If you just don't have a credit history, then you're an unknown quantity, but most institutions will still take a risk possibly with some security. Everyone starts out with no credit so you have to start somewhere.

This is entirely different from someone who has proven themselves to be a bad risk by already refusing to repay their debts.

I'm not sure what more I can tell you than "everything gated on a credit check tends to deny me service" without literally showing you my credit score.

You can easily live a normal life through your 20's with a bankruptcy on your record. (I don't have one, but I know people who do.)

Fair enough, but that only proves my larger point. If you make a whole bunch of a certain type of loan, and everyone who takes that loan declares bankruptcy, that should be a pretty strong indicator that the loan is a poor risk and you should not have made the loan in the first place. Right now banks are shielded from that risk because the government backs the loan and the law forbids the debtors from defaulting, so it's basically just giving free interest payments to banks.

Without loans to support exorbitant tuition, prices will have to go down to what people are actually able to afford to pay.

I think at this point you, me, and Harry might have a hard time finding a disagreement. All I read him saying is that making student loans dischargable in bankruptcy would upend the whole student loan system.

College students with no income can't actually get all that much credit for exactly the reason you mention. They can get a little sure, but not nearly as much as they can get in student loans.

And there isn't zero consequence to defaulting. They'll still take the couple grand you have in your checking account. And having crappy credit is somewhat inconvenient (for the reasons you mention).

It's about cost vs reward. If you've only got $5k in credit card debt then the reward isn't worth the cost. But if you've got $100k in student loan debt those costs start to look pretty small.

Right, banks won't make the loans in the first place. Or they'll make much more conservative loans based on major and potential job prospects.

Without an unlimited supply of money, universities will not be able to charge outrageous amounts for tuition and will have to be more in line with what people are actually able to pay. That's better all around.

I mean, if any 18 year old could fill out a form and get a government-guaranteed six figure loan to buy a car. A loan that they were prohibited from ever defaulting on...then Toyota Corollas would probably cost $150k too...

I'm partially with you because I agree that college in the US is too expensive because the costs are in many ways unrestrained. I think your proposal would lead to more radical change than you think though. We wouldn't end up with "the system we have now but cheaper."

You'd have a lot fewer people going to college. And the people missing out would be poorer and browner.

Now, maybe that would be OK. But a lot of people wouldn't see it that way.

I'm not so sure. If you're really poor (or let's be honest, really poor and a minority), there's a ton of need-based aid available in the form of grants and scholarships. If tuition prices drop, those grants could go even further and allow even more really poor people to go to college.

The people who lose out the most in our current system seem to be those in the middle - not poor enough to qualify for need-based aid, but not rich enough to be able to afford it. Those are the ones who end up with the loans. If tuition hadn't been significantly outpacing inflation for the last few decades, they and their families would probably be able to swing the bill.

FWIW, this is an often-claimed "strategy" in the UK (run up as many debts as you can while you are a student, then immediately declare bankruptcy). In practice, it isn't an issue.

The UK changed their rules in 2004 to make the vast majority of student loans not dischargeable via bankruptcy.

Not student loans (which are taken from your salary so barely worth discharging anyway), but overdrafts, credit cards etc.


Do you have anything to back this up with. I have a _very_ hard time believing that american youth is so different from the youth in the rest of the world.

Also, it is not free because not enough people wants to go to college. In Denmark, for example, we have educations where 95% of applicants are rejected.

Exactly this. Free shouldn't be read as available to everyone. It should in my mind be read as in 'free, after you have passed the entrance exams'. At least this is how it at least used to be in Nordic colleges. And like parent pointed out, for some programs it may be only ~5% of applicants that get in.

I guess alternative would be accepted almost everyone, but then during first three years or so, ruthlessly remove students from programs based on test scores etc.

> Do you have anything to back this up with. I have a _very_ hard time believing that american youth is so different from the youth in the rest of the world.

I believe that you are right in your intuition, but not in the consequences.

The first consequence is that in Germany, vocational training is often a much better alternative to universities for many pupils. Also being allowed to go to university requires an "Abitur" degree of the school, which means that you have to go 2-3 years longer to the school. For even being allowed to "Oberstufe" (the part of school that leads to "Abitur"), you need decent marks in school beforehand.

Even if you have Abitur, there exist alternatives to universities that can suit one better than university, for example Fachhochschule (school of applied science; though I am cautious to use this English translation, since it is a very German concept that has no analogue in the English-speaking world that I am aware of), a kind of "university" that has no academic focus, but applied focus. I think the best English translation that I can come up with is "engineering school", though it is not restricted to engineering degrees.

Also be aware that at German universities you are very much on your own for studying; i.e. no hands-holding etc.

TLDR: Two points:

1. There exist good alternatives to universities in Germany

2. At a German university, you are typically much on your own - this is not for everybody.

See, that would imply it's not free for everyone. It's free for 5% of people who are able to get in. What happens to the people who don't qualify?

Why should it be available for everyone? Why should a person that doesn't pass equal opportunity entrance exam be allowed to study to become a lawyer or civil engineer or a medical doctor for free/on tax payers money? Call it accountability maybe?

And for those who don't qualify for particular masters program, well I guess they will either try harder next time over, or face the music and look for some other areas where they might be a better fit.

They shouldn't. But then one also shouldn't claim "We value education so much that we pay for everyone to go to college" when in fact only 5% of people go. It's misleading.

I bet you could find approximately 5% of people in the US who are able to qualify for full scholarships.

You misunderstand. Way more than 5% go to college, but for some highly sought after educations and institutions, only a select few get accepted. But most people wouldn't apply to these programs to begin with. And those that do, and do not get accepted, can study different subjects, or even the same subject but at a different school.

Sure, but it's still a number of people that is significantly less than everyone. And everyone in Denmark is again significantly less than everyone in the US.

So saying "Hey if we can pay for a few hundred thousand people to go to college, why can't you pay for tens of millions of people to go college?" is not really a fair comparison.

@imgabe: Why would you suggest that Denmark's model can't be scaled up to US size? Or even take Germany's model, and you'll start off from a platform some 15x the size of Denmark.

It makes no sense at all.

As others mention below, Germany and other countries end up with about the same percentage of college graduates as the US. So what is the advantage of switching to a different model if it produces the same result? It doesn't mean any additional people would be able to go to college.

> So what is the advantage of switching to a different model if it produces the same result?

Those who go to college don't have to deal with crippling dept.

We could go a long way to ending that by not subsidizing loans and making them dischargeable in bankruptcy. We could also better educate kids about cost/benefits of college and making sure they choose a degree that will be able to repay any loans they take out. Hopefully people are already catching on to that.

We did at one point in history have college that was affordable without having the government pay for it. It should be possible to do that again.

Well, for one, when economy isn't a factor, then academic prowess is a stronger predictor for who goes to college. Which seems more fair, and to garner more utility.

It would also mean less horrific student loan situations.

> when economy isn't a factor, then academic prowess is a stronger predictor for who goes to college

I'd be interested in seeing data on that. Family income and "academic prowess" are often highly correlated, since higher income families tend to have better educated parents to begin with and are more able to pay for tutors and additional help.

They go to a less prestigious institution.


My totally anecdotal experience (mostly Italy, Spain) is the opposite, even in countries where higher education is cheap/subsidized, people tend to go to University "just because", mostly because it is expected by family/parents, and most don't really have a long term plan.

It is really rare for a 17/18 yo to have a clear picture of his/her own future, IMHO.

In Spain, which is a quite big country and has almost-free tuition, there are way too many graduates working in low-wage jobs because the national market cannot just offer them qualified positions. Here is one source: https://elpais.com/elpais/2011/12/09/inenglish/1323411644_85... (2011 but still applies and in higher percentages according to recent studies which I will link later).

The data doesn't really show this. A slightly larger percentage of Americans have tertiary education than Europeans, but not by much. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_tertiary_...

Canada - 54%

Japan - 48%

U.S. - 44%

Switzerland - 40%

Sweden - 39%

Estonia - 38%

Iceland - 37%

Belgium - 37%

France - 32%

Germany - 27%

The problem with that is that it depends on what you measure (same with GDP if e.g. education is free). E.g. Germany and Switzerland have different branches in education that are well regarded but you don't go to university (e.g. nurses go to university in the US and thus count in your statistic but in Germany they get a special multi-year training which is not counted)

This is a very good point. It's free because it can be, or has to be. That is, a given economy / country needs more upper edu'ed. The gov makes that happen by lowering the price.

The US, on the other hand wouldn't benefit nearly as much. The need for still more (relatively) over-edu'ed isn't there.

On a similar note, US edus charge more because they can. As demand increases so does price. Top that off with the available of "cheap" and easy money (i.e., subsidized student loans) and prices go even higher.

Not everyone is college material, and that's not a bad thing. Unfortunately, most in the US are unwilling to accept this.

Imagine how much college you could pay for if you curbed your half trillion dollar budget just a bit. But say that and people get upset.

Here's a simple fix for free college:

Online-only courses that everyone in the United States can get into regardless of ability (no admission department). Standardized exams with rigid grading criteria (no need for TAs to grade). Lectures are recorded once, so it's only a one-time fee paid to a professor.

No athletics department. No dorms. No campus. No clinic.

There's your free college education.

If you want your sports and luxury dorms and catered meals, then you gotta pay for it.

No interaction with your instructors. No questions answered, no updates.

No essays, no writing requirement. In fact, no specialized grading is possible. There's only limited curricula that can be satisfied by multiple-choice grading.

Presumably it would have the same work requirements as a traditional class: ~3 hours of lecture / week, ~15 weeks, plus an additional 3-6 (?) hours of reading and exercises per week = 90-150 hours of work. My degree required >= 120 credit hours, so overall that would be 3600-5400 hours of work. Going to do that in your spare time while you wait tables or clerk a convenience store?

Why does college education need such a rapid pace? With self learning, you would be able to view lectures on your own schedule.

Why wait tables or clerk when you can live at home with your parent and spend your time doing class activities? The education is free, so what's the extra income needed for?

You don't need essays to assess understanding of material. My education was evaluated with 99% standardized testing.

You don't need interaction with professors if your questions were answered by a FAQ.

This can easily be provided by the federal government. The costs are miniscule.

The best part: it's easy to recruit the best talent for providing the lectures because you'll be the face of a specific subject for many years, and being features as THE expert teacher, your side gigs get huge exposure: books, articles, commentary, etc.

You can even get recurring income by addressing questions in follow up videos.

It's like Khan academy but at the national level, and this time it's for keeps (aka it counts for education credits).

Free college in the US will amount to wasted taxes unless the programs are highly competitive. Otherwise, if a state managed to arrange an associate's degree program paid by taxes, the programs would teach that which should have already been taught in high school. These college programs aren't college. They're the 13th and 14th grade.

Care to explain why?

The course "College Algebra" has the highest fail rate among all university courses in the US; this course covers roughly what you already should've seen in high school. A lot of time is spent e.g. practicing arithmetic, plotting polynomials, solving linear equations, and so on. See this book: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book:College_Mathematics:_Alge...

For many students, this is the only mathematics course they take for their degree and they fail/drop multiple times before finally succeeding. For those students, their mathematics course in college is quite literally a repeat of high school.

It's worth noting that many colleges have even more remedial mathematics courses, which (no joke) cover elementary school stuff. E.g. the standard algorithm for division...

So in some sense I would agree with Dowwie's concern, but also point out that we already have this problem anyways, so there isn't much to lose.

> The course "College Algebra" has the highest fail rate among all university courses in the US

After I finished my undergraduate education, I moved to a different area and started to hang out around people who were attending the local state University. Often, they would say "I'm bad at math" and "I struggled with College Algebra" in the same sentence/context.

My initial reaction was a dumbfounded "Algebra is a college subject? I didn't know that. I thought it was a high school subject, sometimes started in middle school."

Of course I didn't do my undergraduate education at a state University. I went to a more engineering-focused school, where the lowest math class in the entire course catalog was a dumbed down variant of Calculus for non-engineering majors.

Once upon a time, there was a student who went to a middling poor school in a middling-poor school district. The highest math class he took before graduating was algebra. He proceeded to test out of geometry and trig, getting dumped into calc his first semester in college.

He did not do well.

I don't think anyone is arguing that K12 education in the US is perfect.

The argument is that using expensive colleges/universities to fill course-length gaps in K12 education is a poor use of resources.

Society should not pay PhD-trained analysts or algebraists to teach FOIL...

We should absolutely ensure that people get a quality education and that the rigor of the programs are aligned with the difficulty of the field of study. There's nothing wrong with having 'weeder' courses early on to ensure that people are capable of completing the program they are in.

That is different from "competitive" admissions. Which, in my interpretation, is artificially limiting the number of admissions such that perfectly qualified (or overqualified) people are rejected for nebulous reasons (i.e., not a "good fit") in an effort to maintain prestige.

> It's worth noting that many colleges have even more remedial mathematics courses, which (no joke) cover elementary school stuff. E.g. the standard algorithm for division...

Mathematics education sucks in most of the US. In large parts of the country, how far you're able to go is determined by how well you do in your math classes at like 10 years old. If you do poorly, then it's very likely you'll be stuck on a tract that will never teach you to solve linear equations. Those that do well end up learning integral calculus before college.

Additionally, you have to consider that returning students may have not had a math class in a decade+ and it's hard to know where to start everyone. So it makes sense to start people from arithmetic. My mother went for her degree in her 50s and literally started at Kindergarten math and worked her way up from there.

> We should absolutely ensure that people get a quality education and that the rigor of the programs are aligned with the difficulty of the field of study... That is different from "competitive" admissions. Which, in my interpretation, is artificially limiting the number of admissions such that perfectly qualified

That's totally fair. In that case, I think this is a difference in wording/failure to communicate more than it is an actual substantive disagreement.

I agree with the problem that you identified. I don't think that the correct solution to that problem is to start teaching middle school math in universities.

Night classes and/or GED prep courses are a better option for people who need to re-do high school.

Of course, fixing k12 education would be an even better option...

I'm sorry, but I fail to see how this relates to what dowwie wrote.

He said:

>> if a state managed to arrange an associate's degree program paid by taxes, the programs would teach that which should have already been taught in high school. These college programs aren't college.

Emphasis added.

I provided a concrete example of where this is already happening in higher ed: the mathematics course that a huge percentage of students take in college are covering material that's supposed to be covered in high school.

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