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Free College for all? Not really.

When talking to people about the “Say No! To College Debt” book, I’ve been asked if the book will really be necessary with the political winds blowing towards so-called free college for all. My answer is always “Yes!”

There is a proposal floating in the politisphere to forgive $10,000 of Federal student debt per borrower. That sounds wonderful for a start. But that’s certainly not going to clear all the outstanding student debt. There is much more Federal student debt beyond that. Private student borrowing is not being addressed at all.

We also need to ask where that money is going to come from. By continuing to borrow, this nation is heading for run-away inflation. That would be like what has been seen recently in some South American countries. I don’t think we want to go there.

Another proposal is to consider public colleges a civic right. As a civic right, they should be free for those living in the same state as the college. Disappointingly, a recent study shows that public college undergraduate debt is only about 15% of federal student loans.

For some of my peers, free State schools would have been wonderful. It would have been great for my wife and me. We both obtained undergraduate degrees at State schools. But that’s no help for those holding 85% of the loans. Those are graduate students, students attending private colleges or universities, or students attending church-based or other religious colleges and universities.

The other problem with the proposal is that “free” only covers tuition. At most colleges and universities, room, board, and additional fees are a significant part of the costs of attendance. Even at public colleges and universities, there would still be considerable borrowing to cover other costs of attendance. And, surprise!, the politicians pushing for free tuition are not talking about eliminating the Federal school loan system. Even they know that at best the idea is only a token solution primarily for political gain.

Another basic issue is whether a public school is where you or your student desires to attend. There are fine public colleges and universities out there. My wife and I are graduates of some of those. But if these proposals go through, you can expect to see many of the excellent private and religious schools close down. They won’t be able to compete. Where will this county be with only public schools? The United States is the envy of the world in its excellence, selection, and breadth of colleges and universities. One of the things that makes this country great are the options offered to citizens in most of their choices. That should continue to include colleges and universities.

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