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In the 1960s, I attended the University of North Texas, a public school blessed with good teachers and an educational culture focused on enabling us students to become socially useful citizens. And it was affordable – with close-to-free tuition and a part-time job, I could get a good education, gain experience in everything from work to civic activism, graduate in four years, and obtain a debt-free start in life. We just assumed that’s what college was supposed to be. It still ought to be, but for most students today, it’s not even close.
Indeed, a $1.3 trillion mountain of debt is weighing down students at all types of U.S. colleges, endangering our entire economy. That’s more than people owe on credit cards or auto loans – and it’ll soon surpass the subprime mortgage debt that crashed the economy in 2008.
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Private, for-profit, corporate colleges are the biggest creators of this looming danger. To say there are lots of horror stories about them is like saying there are lots of ouchies in a bramble patch. With brand names like University of Phoenix, ITT Tech, Corinthian, Kaplan, and Strayer, they suck up some $32 billion a year in federal student loan money. They overcharge students so drastically that even those who graduate are stuck with nearly $40,000 in debt, and they deliver such poor education that graduates can’t get jobs with high-enough wages to repay the loans. David Halprin, author of Stealing America’s Future, calls this predatory educational industry “an immoral enterprise.”
America’s whole approach to ever-higher-priced, higher-education is wrong-headed. We know that college and advanced-skill degrees today are as essential to both individual and national well-being as high school diplomas used to be, so its time to redirect and reinvest in America’s future by making higher education free.