OPINION: Letter to the Editor: How free is free education

Bill Cushings/ English Dept.

Both President Obama and Bernie Sanders fought for “free” community college, and now it encores at ELAC. After all, educated citizens help society.

However, what does “free” education cost? At some point, bills need paying—unless staff and faculty are prepared to give their time and energy for nothing. Any takers?

Who pays for “free” education? Short answer: government.

Problem is, government only pays out what it collects from taxes.

If government pays for education, it gets to regulate it. Then, what students study becomes a state decision.

After that, when does the state decide how students complete coursework, what classes they take, even where graduates work or how much they get paid? Again, any takers?

Suddenly, the notion of “free” gets confusing. U. S. students attending college today do not get their schooling free, but they’re “free” to choose what they pursue.

As to enamored faculty, the same argument applies: how many are prepared to forego autonomy of curriculum, texts, even technique, once government decides how subjects are taught?

Furthermore, this idea’s “curricula” flaw is one of practicality.

Community colleges are effective because they are precisely that: community colleges, dedicated to and operated by their municipalities, adapting and adjusting to regional needs in real time.

If a new industry moves into the area, they can provide training. With government control, prepare for a regulatory slug caring little for those attending or those working at the college.

In short, this becomes a trade of “free” choice for “free” of charge.

It’s a bum deal.

This article has 1 Comment

  1. Professor Cushing,

    I doubt that anyone would read this, but regardless, I will still comment on it as it may be just an exercise in futility. As an English professor, your specialty is the English language, and the word “free” to you is a misnomer, “there ain’t nothing free,” as Merriam-Webster defines the adjective as not costing or charging anything. Taxes paid means that tuition is not free.


    Tuition is free because students do not have to fork out any funds out-of-pocket to attend ELAC, let alone, a CSU or U.C. colleges. Hence the adjective. But that does not allay your apprehension towards who will pay for this? Allow me to expand on this. As a college, the education is varied. ELAC does not just teach English, but ethnic studies, math, science, journalism, and economics. What may not make sense grammatically, makes sense economically.

    Allow me to explain.

    In economics, there is an acronym called ROI or Return on Investment. ROI is a practice in corporations, both public and private, and with every dollar spent, there is an expectation of a more significant return than the initial investment. So with $1 invested in a student, would return in taxes $2-$3. Another example is the construction of ELAC. When I attended, we did not have air conditioning. The project cost the County $6 billion (http://www.latimes.com/local/la-community-colleges-html-htmlstory.html) with 10.17 million people in Los Angeles, it costs about $590 to complete the project, Divide that by 30 years, that’s about $20 a year.

    After the 30 years is up, the school would make a profit. Now with Elans graduating and paying taxes, they too will be contributing to the construction. The added cash from the initial $6 billion would mean a massive ROI for the community, as, according to the U.S. census, more than 70 percent of the people who attend ELAC will remain in the area, buy a home and reinvest in the commons.

    Unlike a corporation whose obligation or fiduciary duty is to make a profit (https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/fiduciary_duty), the colleges commit to the stakeholders and invest in the students by having free high education, so that when they graduate, they too can contribute to the community. Then there is the issue of money to pay for this. Taxes. And as you rightly pointed out, “Problem is, [the] government only pays out what it collects from taxes. ” which is tright, but I remember tuition was free when our taxes were more than 50 percent for the higher tax bracket.

    Our federal elected officials think that Carter or even Eisenhower were probably communists (the top-tax tier rate under Eisenhower was more than 91 percent) and tuition was free. So what’s the next best thing? By going out and lobbying our State to increase taxes so that your students can benefit from the ROI. If secession doesn’t help, repeal the corporate side of Proposition 13 would be the next best suggestion.

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