Free College

I recently found an old tuition receipt from my undergrad days.  College wasn't free then, but it was cheap: $99 per term.  In constant dollars, that would be about $800 dollars today.  The average equivalent for state universities today is about $5000/term, up to $25,000 per term at private colleges, roughly tripling in real dollars since then.  Meanwhile, the US GDP per capita in real, inflation adjusted dollars has roughly tripled since then.  It's absurd to claim that our then much poorer country could afford nearly free college or at least cheap college then but can't now.

Elizabeth Warren's proposal for free tuition at public colleges is an idea whose time is overdue, as is her proposal to forgive substantial portions of existing college debt.  College debt is now the largest component of personal debt in the US, and it exerts a crippling effect on the economy.  Heavily indebted students can't afford to buy houses, start businesses or establish families.

A newly graduated surgeon with $500,000 in student debt may be in position to pay off those loans in a reasonable time, but her ability to start her own practice or a family will be severely limited.  A special education teacher with $100,000 in debt is likely to be a financial cripple for most of his life.  And then there is the theater graduate, working as a waitress, with $140,000 in private school debt.

Of course when I read this I thought, "what the hell was she thinking?"  Of course I know.  She was young, optimistic, had found her passion, and thought she would be a star.  Young people are inexperienced, optimistic, and often unwise, but I don't think that's a good reason why it should be open season on them for greedy bankers.

Huge amounts of personal debt are destabilizing for any nation, and that goes double for governments established on republican principles.  Student debt is one of the most vicious forms of personal debt, since it tends to cripple and enslave the nation's future.


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