Education

The price America pays for education inefficiency

In the debate about US Healthcare, advocates for a more equitable system often state that in the wealthiest nation on earth, healthcare like education should be a basic human right. However due to some longstanding cold war fear mongering that attempted to draw distinct lines between Capitalism and Communism, Americans have an allergy to straightforward policy solutions involving the public sector because these are somehow going to lead us down a path of Socialism ending in failure.

And for that, we pay a price.

According to the New America Foundation, the federal government spent $69 billion in 2013 on its hodgepodge of financial aid programs, such as Pell Grants for low-income students, tax breaks, work study funding, and that doesn't even include loans.

New Department of Education data highlights that's public colleges collected $62.6 billion dollars in tuition from undergraduates in 2012 across the entire United States.

If we were we scrapping our current system and starting from scratch, Washington could make public college tuition free with the money it sets aside its scattershot attempts to make college affordable today.

Of course, we're not going to start from scratch (and it's not clear that we should want to make state schools totally free). But it underscores what a confused mess higher education finance is in this country. On the whole, Americans seem to want affordable colleges that are accessible to all. But rather than simply using our resources to maintain a cheap public system (and remember, public schools educate 75 percent of undergrads), we spill them into a fairly wasteful and expensive private sector. At one point, a Senate investigation found that the for-profit sector alone was consuming 25 percent of all federal aid dollars.

While making tuition free in 2012 would have required $62.6 billion on top of what state and local governments already spend subsidizing public colleges, as well as some of the federal spending that doesn't go towards financial aid, dig a little deeper into the numbers and you see that most Pell Grant money is already spent at public colleges. In 2011 - 2012, state school students received $21.8 billion in grants. So, if you subtract that from the total needed to completely eliminate tuition, the sum would be closer to $40 billion.

Read more about the idea of making public college tuition free, here.


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