The Real Cost of Free College

11 | By Shah Gilani

The cost of a college education is out of control. In fact, the business of saddling students with inordinate debt, whether they complete a degree program or not, is the dirty business of colleges.

One answer to the $1.5 trillion problem facing indebted college students of all backgrounds and income levels is free college.

The real cost of free college would be borne by taxpayers and the students it would fail in more ways than one.

Socialist policy purveyors advocate free college to lift all boats with the tide. However, as laudable as that goal appears, free college is nothing more than a ruse.

The ruses don’t stop there, either. Recently, a friend and colleague of mine, Tom Gentile, brought to my attention a growing issue that’s affecting millions of Americans: A tragic new movement called “re’hire’ment.”

Yep, you read that right. And it means exactly what it sounds like. Millions of retirees, or folks about to retire, are having to throw away their dreams of retirement to go back to, or stay in, the workforce.

Some of these retirees – or “re’hire’es,” as Tom’s calling them – have to return to work out of frustration, fear, or just because they have no other choice. It’s a sad way to spend your would-be golden years, but it’s quickly becoming a reality for a growing number of the population. It’s estimated that by 2024, only six years from now, 13 million “re’hire’es” will still be in, or return to, the workforce.

You can protect yourself, though. It’s not too late. Click here to learn more about how Tom can help keep you from becoming another part of the statistic.

But don’t go thinking that these “re’hire’es” didn’t apply themselves or were lazy. In more ways than one, their fate was not their fault.

Like not getting the pensions they were promised. Pension is just as much of a grandiose illusion as free college is. It’s all a corrupt business, and today, I’ll break down for you why free college is a problem.

Here’s why free college is a bad idea, who it would hurt, and who it would really help…

“Free” Doesn’t Really Mean Free

Free college would never be free. Someone must pay for buildings, books, educators, and administrators. That can only be taxpayers.

Coming up with a formula to tax individuals or entities, whether a flat tax or a progressive tax, is the first problem.

There’s no equitable way to levy a specific tax earmarked to pay for free college. One estimate making the rounds of discussions about free college has the cost estimated at $75 billion a year.

That’s for starters.

[URGENT] These billionaires seem to be prepared for a massive market crash (are you?)

The size and power of any government bureaucracy necessary to administer free colleges would only grow along with the cost to feed that bureaucracy.

Of course, that’s a benefit to the socialist policy purveyors of free college because it guarantees them monolithic voting blocks.

America already has an enormous problem with its public schools.

Whether it’s politicized arguments over curriculums and books, dropout rates, or the power of teachers’ unions to protect an entire class of poorly prepared, disinterested educators (certainly not the majority, but a big enough problem to infect most school systems), expanding that net to encompass public colleges surely frightens everyone.

Then there the students themselves.

A college education, whether free or paid for, doesn’t guarantee class-takers or graduates a job and certainly is no guarantee of a career.

If a college education is free, what is its value to students?

The same students who claw their way through college, whatever the cost, because they want an education and better opportunities will always shine. And the students who don’t consider a college education worth the paper they’re given at graduation won’t apply themselves anymore because college is free.

How will employers be able to differentiate between graduates of cookie-cutter college factories?

What Do You Think?

The following excerpt highlights another issue. It’s a synopsis of a recent study by Brookings on something close to free college. It’s eye opening.

[CRUCIAL] Congress’s $6 trillion lie is costing millions of Americans

This study examines one of the first randomized control trials of a program similar to many free colleges and promise scholarship proposals. The Degree Project was launched in Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) in 2011. Students in 18 randomly selected high schools were promised up to $12,000 to pay for college, at essentially any in-state institution. These funds were sufficient to cover all tuition and fees at the local two-year college – making it a form of free or debt-free college. The funds could also be used to attend four-year colleges, covering more than one year of tuition, and fees. To receive the funds, students had to graduate on time from an MPS high school with at least a 2.5 cumulative GPA and a 90 percent class attendance rate, and fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

The Degree Project had some impact on students’ motivation, college expectations, and steps toward college, such as applying to more colleges and FAFSA completion. However, it had no effect on the performance measures and no effect on whether students went directly on to college. The most recent evidence does suggest that the scholarship may have slightly increased persistence and graduation in two-year colleges, though not in four-year colleges. We are continuing to track these effects; however, it seems clear at this point that many of the potential benefits, during and just after high school, did not emerge.

A larger lesson is that students need more than the promise of additional financial aid to increase their high school GPA. Students also need to be in environments that help them achieve the specified academic performance requirements. TDP promised one major resource – $12,000 for college attendance – which increased students’ motivation and aspiration for college. But TDP did not change the high school environments that are also part of the college going process. To increase college enrollment, students need more support from their schools. Students need specific, ongoing information about how to meet college-related requirements. They need structured institutional support long before they become rooted in the paths that are unlikely to lead to academic success in high school or college. In the absence of these supports, interventions such as TDP might reinforce existing systems of class and/or racial stratification (Gamoran, 2010; Oakes, 2005; Kuttner & Rifelj, 2017) while maintaining deficit views or stereotypes of lower-achieving students or students of color who they believed would never meet the program requirements (Ladson-Billings & Tate, 1995; Leonardo, 2013; Steele, Spencer, & Aronson, 2002; Valencia, 2010; Lewis & Diamond, 2015). Rather than accepting or reinforcing the forces that produce such vast inequalities in students’ college outcomes, financial aid and other programs need to be designed to combat them.

I’ve put forward my ideas about how to cut the costs of higher education in this space many times, to very positive reviews and comments.

It’s your turn.

Do you agree or disagree that free college is ruse? Comment below and let’s discuss.



11 Responses to The Real Cost of Free College

  1. Denise D Wright says:

    This Degree Project leaves out the reality that the college student has to be SMART for college to pay off. You’re not going to become a yuppie of any kind with an IQ of 110 or 120.

  2. Patrick Kissane says:

    It is now universally agreed that free primary education benefits the community as a whole.
    It is now almost universally agreed that secondary education benefits the community as a whole.
    The jury is still out on whether free tertiary education benefits the community as whole. The following countries have had free tertiary education in the recent past and many still have it: England, Scotland, Ireland, Australia, U.S.

  3. Ron Lehman says:

    Free college is a ruse. First, it would dramatically drive up the costs of college since there is no incentive on the part of colleges to control or reduce their costs. As a result, the costs would increase even faster than they have been in the past two decades. Further, the quality of education would not improve since colleges have demonstrated their propensity to add frivolous amenities and programs at a much faster rate when adequate resources are available. Finally, the quality of incoming students would not improve since the funds would not be used to improve the talent supply chain systems prior to enrollment in college. More students would apply, but no more would actually prepare academically for the college challenges before them. And, as noted in your article, they would not study any harder if college is free. In fact, those that are now working to fund their college expenses, would be inclined not to work, and would thus have more time available for non-college activities. It is doubtful that students would spend more time studying since, even if working, they find the time to do the studying they feel necessary. As a former employee of both a public school system, and a major university, free college will merely provide more resources to grow the institutional bureaucracy and the inherent inefficiencies, but society will gain precious little in the supply of more or better qualified workers, citizens, or consumers. Only the taxpayers will see real results and that will be significantly increased taxes.

  4. George says:


    The problem of high tuition can be reversed quickly, by ending the federal loan program and restrictions on bankruptcy.

    If only creditworthy individuals could borrow money, the diploma mills would disappear, and the real schools would have to cut tuition in order to attract the remaining students.

    Universities would stop snapping up real estate, stop creating highly paid admin positions that never existed before, and get back to the business of educating.

  5. Owen says:

    Today young people absolutely need training beyond high school in order to be self sufficient and not depend on welfare support to enjoy a middle class lifestyle. Our message to them should not be college, but what training would they need to get into the type of work they would like. “Like” is the operative word since this would be the principle basis for motivation. Any free program should include a battery of tests and counseling during the high school years to see what each student has the potential for, followed by competent advice on what jobs or careers would be a good fit, and then two years of free education and training to pursue this objective. This is the model most of the rest of the developed world follows. I can point to the GI Bill following World War II as the most successful job training free education program the U.S. has ever had. About a third of the returning millions of Veterans went to college, and about a third went to vocational training. The U.S. benefited immensely from this investment in our workforce. Comments?

  6. Knobby says:

    Free college is a ruse. Student debt is a criminal enterprise. 4 years of studying European history so you can get a job as a bank teller is a waste of money, and even worse, a waste of time.

    50% of work-life success involves showing up on time ready to work. Not giving lame excuses 2-3 times per month goes a long way as well. This is probably more important than a BA degree if you desire fulfilling work and at least a middle class lifestyle.

    Many young people today have bypassed the historical pre-high school path of discovering an area of interest, saving some money from washing cars, walking dogs, or mowing lawns and buying a tool (wrenches, guitar, hammer and saw) and supplies and beginning to learn some kind of trade or service that can be sold person-to-person.

    What is lost is the personal growth from the process of sales and negotiation with another person. Another is the concept that nothing in your life will ever be perfect, and the entire human existence is the process of getting to good enough.

    Perfection is the exclusive realm of God, Allah, Budda, Nature, etc.

    If we can solve these issues, our young people would be leading us into a future of hope and continual improvement of the human condition. The circumstances of high costs for anything would not persist. Government would be relegated back to it’s rightful place of maintaining a justice system and infrastructure to promote commerce.

    What we are getting instead is an epidemic of hypersensitive narcissism. Many of us worry more about what they believe other people are thinking about, without knowing their own thoughts and beliefs. This plague is concentrated in the Western world. The terrorists and hackers use Facebook and instagram, but they know their belief system, and use these systems as tools to dupe the poor fools who use these systems as a psychological crutch.

    Universities today all want to become the next Ohio State, where the sports teams fund the institution rather that vice versa. The vast majority will never achieve this goal, and will burn cubic yards of cash trying.

    That is enough ranting for one day.

  7. Jim Krueger says:

    Leave universities only for the best and the absolute brightest for research to service industry, technology, and society.

    I believe the solution is to have large cap and mid cap companies provide schooling for prospective employees with qualifications demonstrated through aptitude testing for entry.

    The corporations can tailor their curriculum to the needs of their business while controlling costs
    and producing high quality employees ready to be employed after graduation.

    This system would also eliminate the cost of searching and recruiting. Call it a “Human Resources R&D Development”.

  8. Tom Dalgliesh says:

    Some free college is necessary to help with clever but poor Americans. The system I favor is a student loan system that is directly tied to grades. High school grades to get into college, then college grades ongoing. Something like, students with a grade-point average of 3.51 or more, get 75% of their student loans forgiven, those with 3.01 or more get 50% forgiven, etc. The levels need not be so crude of course, with levels of 3.01, 3.11, 3.21, 3.31, etc., each giving higher loan forgiveness.

    A system like this will keep the system functioning, but reward academic study and performance. Those who come to college to play cards in the cafeteria, will fail to get any help.

    Optionally, the level of student loans awarded can be set to rise with GPA. This is less desirable since the biggest issue is the high level of student debt for graduates. Somehow, we need to encourage academic standards and tie this to student loans.

  9. Kevin Beck says:

    The part that’s always objectionable about these “free” scams is that those who receive the benefit are never paying for it. They amount to having someone else pay for the goods. And when that happens, costs are never properly allocated.

    This was one of the problems that Milton Friedman said about Socialism: It always bankrupts the system because no one has a way to accurately measure costs.

    The system that works best is when the costs and benefits are as close as possible to each other, especially if it is the result of free negotiation. In other words, the person who receives the benefit should be the one paying for (most of) it.

  10. Colleen Smith says:

    There’s no reason that what is taught in the first 2 years of college can’t be taught in high school, or by e-learning/remote classes during the high school years (there may be some science classes where it may be problematic).

    Make high school better, and if it means putting students on different tracks due to their interests and motivations, so be it; we aren’t all equal in abilities and interests.

    It won’t happen, but it would be a better solution than free college.

  11. GLYNNICE SELF says:

    The Free College For Everybody mantra is championed by those whose chief desire is to undermine & eliminate the free enterprise, capitalistic nature of American society. Its chief aims are to eliminate & overthrow the U.S. Constitution, eliminate all traces of patriotism, undermine the very concept of work ethic & personal responsibility, create conformity rather than individuality, & eliminate common sense entirely. All of which pervert exceptionalism into mediocrity, & ultimately would make America a 3rd world country run by tyrants, which is the ultimate objective.

    It would also further encourage the problem of illegal aliens. Considering how many billions of dollars are spent to educate such personages during kindergarten through high school, adding free college to that would undoubtedly trip or quadruple the costs illegals impose upon society.

    It seems that the majority of colleges no longer function to educate anymore anyway. Most have become little more than indoctrination centers for sublimating human rights & dignities & cultivating mental ZOMBIES. The elimination of common sense is evidenced by so many of the brainless ‘snowflakes’ who scream ‘equal opportunity’ & ‘social justice’ but riot & physically assault many of those whose viewpoints differ from the politically correct asylum mentality. They can’t even recognize that the labels of racist, unjust, etc. they proclaim their enemies are the very traits that THEY are exhibiting the most. Their rants brand them as perfect poster children for the freedom & CORRECTNESS of abortion, because one of the rights of the UNBORN is the right NOT to be born to parents whose intelligence(?) & degenerate lifestyle would ultimately destroy the souls of their offspring & society.

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