Siegel: Ideas for ‘free’ college education


By Murray Siegel

Murray Siegel

The cost of a college education has skyrocketed. In-state tuition at ASU for 2005-06 was $4,407; last year that bill was $10,822, a 146-percent increase.

The explosive increase in college tuition has placed a financial burden on many families. Students borrow money for college, resulting in current college-loan debt exceeding the total American credit card debt. Some politicians have declared that if elected they will provide free education at a public university for all, paid for by the federal government.

Some Americans are troubled by this offer, since a reasonable source of funding has not been provided, and there are fears that, given a free education, many students will not exert themselves in the classroom.

My August column demonstrated there are two existing methods for obtaining a free college education paid for by the federal government – the GI Bill and ROTC scholarships. The question was asked, “What about students who are unable or unwilling to serve in the military?”

What follows are not final proposals, simply places where the conversation can start.

A Federal Work Force (FWF) could be formed where young Americans can provide needed labor in such areas as fire prevention in forests, flood prevention, clearing decaying neighborhoods, transforming vacant urban lots into community parks and serving as teachers’ aides in underfunded school districts. FWF participants would serve a minimum of two years (including training) and a maximum of four years. For each year served the participant will have a year of tuition, fees and required materials paid for at any public university by the federal government.

The second proposal would identify college majors that are desperately needed for specific jobs, such as highly qualified math and science teachers, teachers of any subject and grade level in rural or inner-city schools, registered nurses at rural hospitals, computer scientists willing to work for municipal governments and urban planners. An applicant who signs a contract to enter an approved academic program and who agrees to seek specifically defined employment for four years upon graduation would have all tuition, fees and required materials paid for at any public university that has an approved academic program.

Should such a student drop out of school or not obtain approved employment, the contract will be considered violated, and all funds paid by the federal government will be converted into a loan with payments beginning three months after the contract is violated. Failure to make these payments will result in that person being unable to be hired by any federal agency or receive payments from any federal program.

Both these programs need to be fleshed out by experts, but this seems to be a worthwhile place to start. What do you think?

Murray Siegel, Ph.D., has 44 years of experience teaching mathematics. He is in his fifth year as a volunteer at Butterfield Elementary School.

This column appears in the September issue of InMaricopa.