Siegel: Realities of a free college education

By Murray Siegel

Murray Siegel

The cost of a university education has become outrageous.

Four years at an elite university (tuition, fees, books, room and board) can cost $260,000, while a typical public university costs $100,000. How are these costs covered? Start a savings account when a child is born. To save $100,000 in 18 years, deposit $200 each month, a task that many families could not meet. What if the family had two or three children to send to college?

The alternative is to borrow using a college loan, which is painless until the student must begin to make payments. It must be mentioned that college debt is not eliminated by declaring bankruptcy. Many college graduates find their college debt burden presents barriers to choosing a job, deciding where to live, buying a home, getting married or starting a family.

Thus, when politicians seeking the presidency declare they support a free college education paid for by the federal government, many voters, especially young adults, support them. Note these proposals are rarely followed with a realistic method of providing the revenue to cover these free educations.

In 2015, when Sen. Bernie Sanders, who was running for the Democratic presidential nomination, proposed free college, I reflected on my family’s history. My older brother was a corporal in the Army Air Force in World War II, serving in North Africa, England and France. When he returned home in 1946, he used the GI Bill to get a free college education paid for by the federal government.

I received a USAF commission out of ROTC and, upon completing my service, I used the GI Bill to attend graduate school, getting a free college education paid for by the federal government. Our older son accepted an AFROTC scholarship and received an engineering degree from a very expensive private university. His free college education was paid for by the federal government.

His son is currently on active duty in the Air Force and knows when he completes his service, he will use the GI Bill to obtain a free college education paid for by the federal government. Thus, there are two current options for a student to receive a free college education paid for by the federal government.

One can visit the nearest recruiting station, raise his or her right hand, and know the GI Bill will be available when the military service is finished. A second option is to apply for an ROTC scholarship, available from the Army, Navy and Air Force. This scholarship covers tuition, fees, books and a monthly stipend.

What about a student who is unable or unwilling to serve in the military? Next month’s column will offer some non-military options for free college.

Murray Siegel, Ph.D., has 44 years of experience teaching mathematics. He has volunteered at Butterfield Elementary School four years.

This column appears in the August issue of InMaricopa.