America already invests enough in college education that if the money were just given directly to the colleges as a per-student free education grant, everyone could go for free. It’s the complicated structure that makes it a mess (and banks parasite out in the middle). Some one actually ran the numbers, if you don’t think this is possible:
“Q. You write that free education is critical for democracy. Why?
A. As Thomas Jefferson argued, people in a democracy need to be able to understand the current issues in order to participate in an effective manner. If you don’t have a population that’s been well-educated, they’re not going to understand the difficult issues of the time and they’re not going to be able to participate fully.
Q. How much will all this cost? Where does that come from?
A. In 2008-09, there were 6.5 million full-time undergrads in public four-year universities and 4.3 million in community colleges. In 2009-10, the average cost of tuition, room and board at public four-year schools was $15,014; at two-year public colleges, it was $7,703. Do the math: The cost of making all public universities free would have been $97 billion in 2009-10, and $33 billion for all community colleges — total $130 billion.
That seems like a lot, but remember: In 2010, the federal government spent more than $30 billion on Pell grants and billions more to subsidize and service student loans. States spent $10 billion on financial aid and another $76 billion for direct support to universities. Include various state and federal tax breaks, and tax deductions for tuition, and it’s possible to make all public higher education free by just using resources more effectively.
It’s important to remember, too, that tuition rates are inflated because colleges charge more to subsidize financial aid for low-income students and to provide merit scholarships for high-scoring students. If we eliminated financial aid, and each college were given a set amount per student, we could significantly reduce the cost of making public higher education free in America. And the government would save billions in servicing and subsidizing student loans, as well as defaults.”