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How Washington Could Make College Tuition Free (Without Spending a Penny More on Education) - Jordan Weissmann - The Atlantic

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Instead of handing money to students and parents, the federal government could instead send the cash down to the states, on the condition that local legislatures kept per student funding at a certain level, and colleges lowered their tuition rates (otherwise, it's likely some states would just cut their support further while relying on Uncle Sam to prop up their schools, all while tuition kept rising). Since student enrollment is also projected to increase over time, the federal government's contribution would probably have to be indexed in some way, either to inflation, or to the student population. 

This is crazy:

Many of the problems with higher-ed today can be traced back on some level to our current approach to aid, which has come to resemble a dog chasing its own tail. Since 1987, the SHEEO reports that states have cut per-student funding for schools by about 44 percent. They in turn, have raised tuition. The federal government has swooped in with more generous grants, tax breaks, and low-interest loans to compensate. Yet, the availability of all that financial aid has probably allowed colleges to hike up tuition without worrying much about enrollment. It's also paved the way for more state budget cuts. So round and round we go. 

Despite some of what you might have read, these problems haven't actually turned college into a bad investment. Going and graduating is still probably the best financial decision anybody not named Gates, Jobs, or Zuckerberg can make in their lives. But the persistent rise in costs have made college a progressively worse deal with each passing year. Perhaps more importantly, it's turned higher education into a much bigger financial gamble for marginal students at risk of dropping out -- which, sadly, describes most young people who ever step foot in a college classroom. 

The under-funding of public university systems and Washington's attempts to compensate have also helped nourish a giant barnacle on the side of higher-ed: the for-profit college industry. As scarce classroom space at community and open-admission state colleges has filled up, students turned towards alternatives like Kaplan University and University of Phoenix, which charge tens of thousands of dollars for degrees with dubious job market value. They get away with it because of federal aid. I call it the 10, 25, 50 problem: They educate ten percent of students, who take out about a quarter of all student loans and are responsible for about half of all defaults. In the meantime, they suck up about $8.8 billion, or around 25 percent, of all Pell Grant money. 

I find progressive tuition schedules truly offensive.

It screws both the rich people and the poor people in favor of the middle.

Still, the 10/25/50 problem is very real. No more Pell grants for Kaplan and Phoenix, please!

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