Monday, June 06, 2016

Free College for All - Let's Dig Deeper

One of the popular campaign issues that Bernie Sanders is proposing is 

"It’s Time to Make College Tuition Free and Debt Free"

On his web site he says "As President, Bernie Sanders will fight to make sure that every American who studies hard in school can go to college regardless of how much money their parents make and without going deeply into debt."

I see two problems with this.  

First,  he's only talking about tuition at public universities. And, if you read this article, you'll see that tuition is only 39% of the full cost of attending a 4-year public university. The major other cost is room and board.  Thus, many poor and middle class families still will not be able to afford college, or will go in debt to pay for it....just not as much.  And, of course, students will still not have as equal access to private colleges as much as more wealthy students have.

Second, is this "who studies hard in school" phrase.  At first glace, this makes sense. It's the American way. Work hard. Get rewarded. Get ahead.

The problem is, for many different reasons, a large number of US students are not motivated to "study hard", thus their grade point averages and college resumes don't look so good as they finish high school (if they do). Here's an interesting article titled "What's Wrong with School". 

In the "Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis" book, Robert D. Putnam (see my article for link) shows the growing impact of where you live on what your support system is.  Youth born or living in high poverty have fewer people in the family, neighborhood or school who model the wide range of careers youth might aspire to, or who help kids build study habits and experiences that enable them to "do well in school".

However, it's not just kids in poverty who are not motivated in classrooms all across America.  While affluent families can pay the way for less prepared kids to get into the best colleges, or any college, less affluent families who might not qualify for the "study hard" free tuition deal, will only get their kids into college by absorbing large amounts of debt.

I'm not sure how much any of the candidates are addressing this issue of student motivation and how well schools, families and/or communities are addressing the problem. 

Just to be fair to Bernie Sanders, five of the six steps he talks about when he talks about college education, focus on the financial burdens incurred by student and parent loans. 

What do you think? Is this something we should be talking about?


Tutor Mentor Connections said...

Here's article included in Tutor/Mentor Connection web library, titled "The Effort Affect: Influencing Student Motivation".

Tutor Mentor Connections said...

Paying the Price - College Costs and the Betrayal of the American Dream, book by Sara Goldrick-Rab is a Professor of Educational Policy Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Founding Director of the Wisconsin HOPE Lab. See video at Also see Prezi at

tellio said...

A few annotations in the margins, but not marginalized.

Tutor Mentor Connections said...

Here's an interview with Sara Goldrick-Rab on the Daley Show with Trevor Noah.