87°F
weather icon Clear

Thomas Knapp: One Libertarian’s nearly free college plan

In 2015, President Barack Obama unveiled a proposal — “America’s College Promise” — to waive tuition at community colleges, allowing students to complete an associate’s degree (or the first half of a bachelor’s degree) at little or no cost to themselves.

Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton offered up even more ambitious plans in 2016. Sanders proposed to make all public colleges and universities tuition-free, Clinton to provide a 100 percent tuition subsidy to students from families making less than $125,000 per year.

So far, these plans haven’t gone anywhere. Meanwhile, college tuition continues to rise faster than inflation and student loans constitute one of the largest forms of consumer debt in America. Something’s got to give.

At the moment, what’s giving is college itself. Work experience and industry skill certifications are beginning to replace a college degree as a job qualification (Glassdoor, an employer/employee review site, reports on 15 large companies that have formally dropped degrees from their hiring requirements).

With college as we know it becoming less valuable and online/distance learning becoming more viable, change is coming whether we like it or not. Why not seize an opportunity for “free college” as we wind down the existing system?

A great deal of government spending on higher education goes to the maintenance of increasingly unnecessary physical plant, as well as on paying professors to deliver the same live lectures over and over to students in physical classrooms (with those students paying big bucks for new editions of textbooks on subject matter which doesn’t change — college-level algebra, for example).

Record the lectures. Make them freely available on streaming video, with accompanying online textbooks. Allow anyone seeking an undergraduate degree (or just taking a class or two) to register for a small per-semester fee, with small additional fees for proctored exams, required lab work, etc. Call it $100 per semester, give or take — less than a thousand dollars for a bachelor’s degree, versus the current $90,000 (average for in-state tuition, books, room/board, etc. at a public college or university) or more.

Public universities could dramatically reduce energy/maintenance costs (and divest themselves of real estate wasted on dorms and other obsolete facilities) while serving more students. Yes, some faculty would have to find new jobs (hopefully in private sector education). Others might refocus on research.

No, this plan wouldn’t replace every degree program. Some things require group settings and costly equipment. But a lot of the way we do college now is like holding on to buggy whips instead of adopting those newfangled horseless carriages.

Government-provided education as we know it is, thankfully, on its way out. Why not make it cheaper and more accessible as it fades into history, instead of just marking time as we await its collapse?

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
THE LATEST
DAN SCHINHOFEN: The bottom line

Can we get just one honest politician to stand up and say, “I think we may have overreacted to this whole COVID-19 thing”?

DAN SCHINHOFEN: The bottom line

We all have one. Some people try to act like they don’t, but each of us has a line which we will not cross. For some it is based on religious faith or ideals. For others it may be something our father or mother instilled in us. Still others may never have given it a thought, but sometime during this short life we will all be confronted with a choice where we will find out just how low we can go.

DEBRA J. SAUNDERS: Joe Biden meets the press

Former Vice President Joe Biden held his first news conference in 89 days, but the press missed a golden opportunity to ask him some real questions.

DEBRA J. SAUNDERS: Trump voters not dying to see Trump

The empty seats at President Donald Trump’s Tulsa, Oklahoma, rally show that his supporters aren’t willing to put themselves at risk to attend a rally during a pandemic.

DAN SCHINHOFEN: Facts, not fear

At the end of this piece, I will list my sources, which are mostly the CDC. From the beginning of this “crisis,” we have been told that we need to listen to the experts, and that is what I have been doing. The CDC recommends using masks and wiping down surfaces, but they do not have clinical data to back this up, and they even contradict their own message in some cases.

THOMAS KNAPP: COVID-19: Freedom means that we can do stupid things, not that we have to

NBC News reports that President Donald Trump is “furious” over “underwhelming” attendance at his June 20 campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Only 6,200 of 19,000 seats ended up cradling Trump supporters’ butts. An optimistically pre-arranged overflow area went unused.