Bob Samuels, president of the University Council of the American Federal of Teachers, believes that all state universities should be tuition free. Samuels writes in the Huffington Post that,

…The cost of making all public higher education free in America would be between fifteen and thirty billion dollars. While this may sound like a large sum, it could actually save money. First of all, the government is currently spending billions of dollars on for-profit schools and other colleges and universities that have very low graduation rates. In fact, what is going on in the state of California is that as students get priced out of the University of California, they either drop out or go to community colleges. Meanwhile as community colleges are defunded, they are forced to cut their enrollments and raise their fees, and the result is that students end up going to high-cost for-profit schools that have a very low graduate rate. In other words, in the current system, everyone pays more, and we produce fewer graduates.

While the US has a free K-12 public education, its failure to fund higher education means that America’s economy is unable to compete with other developed nations that have free universities. Furthermore, by removing the need for students to go into debt, the government would allow graduates to be more productive, and they would have more money to spend, which in turn would act as a stimulus for the economy.

This is actually not so novel an idea. Indeed, the basic problem behind the high-tuition, high-debt model for American higher education is arguably a lot of what’s fueling the Occupy protests.

Free public college was pretty standard in the middle of the last century. Public colleges exist, after all, to provide a quality higher education system to middle and lower income Americans; that’s the point. If only rich people went to college, American wouldn’t need state schools.

This is a very good idea. The implementation, well that’s going to be a problem. Indeed, it’s probably not even going to be possible.

Samuels argues that “America’s economy is unable to compete with other developed nations that have free universities.” Duly noted, but even many developed nations with free universities had trouble keeping that generosity alive.

Furthermore, this is the United States. Hell, we can’t even get a budget agreement, how on earth would we get a national agreement to increase funding for state colleges?

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer