Here's a news flash you probably didn't know: It would cost less for the government to make all public universities tuition-free than what the government already spends in higher education.
That's one reason why as of midday Friday close to 30,000 people had already signed a petition launched by Jeff Bryant, the editor of the Education Opportunity Network website and newsletter, calling for President Obama and Congress to "create a plan to make public college tuition-free."
Here's why that makes sense. Today, the government spends $69 billion a year on student aid for the neediest students. According to the New America Foundation, around $36 billion is spent on higher education grants (like the Pell Grant program), $32 billion of potential revenue is lost through tax credits, exemptions and deductions, and around $1 billion dollars is spent on federal work-study programs. The cost of all public universities? $62.6 billion. That is a $6.4 billion difference between what America spends to help its neediest students and the cost of all public colleges combined.
Student loan debt is not an abstract concept for many graduates. Prospective students have to take it into consideration prior to enrollment, and it is very real constraint on them when they graduate. As a recent college graduate, I have certainly had conversations about student loans with friends who had to take out much larger loans than I. Paying off student loans takes priority over other expenses when the bills arrive. The debt causes unnecessary stress, and with many Americans struggling, especially millennials, reallocating the money already spent on education would alleviate these concerns and allow graduates to hit the ground running.
Congress sent a $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill to President Obama Thursday night. Of that $1.1 trillion, almost $23 billion went to the Pell Grant program. These grants, and grants like it, provide the base of funding for many students to go to college. But what if instead of giving a block of money to some students, the entire tuition of any student who wanted to go to a public college was paid for? The freedoms that this program would open up cannot be overstated, and imagine what would occur when students do not have to base their academic decisions on an uncertain future.
If you would like to see the government save a little bit of money while relieving the debt burden from millions of American undergrads, sign this petition.