Back in the day, when I was a student at Queens College, the jewel in the crown of the City University of New York (CUNY), there was no tuition. A college education was, in fact, “free.”

I remember, when during the course of my tenure at QC, CUNY administrators instituted what they believed to be a modest “consolidated fee” of $250. Oh, the tumult created on campus. The near hysteria. The protests on the quad, orchestrated, as I recall, by the then president of the University Senate, Jay Hershenson, who, not coincidentally, went on to become the Senior Vice Chancellor for University Relations at CUNY, still, to this day, fighting for the students. Thank you, Jay!

Ahh, those were the days…

Fast forward some forty years since my college graduation (I live my life in dog years, so, in reality, I am only a tad beyond my 8th year), and here we are, mobilized to regain a foothold in that quest for a free college education – or at least a college education that is affordable for every American.

Yes, a free college education. Okay. A free community college education, as recently proposed by President Obama. Well, it’s a start, anyway.

Few things in life are truly “free.” The air we breathe is not free -- of either pollutants or the price we pay to keep it breathable. And, as even the most ardent conservative among us would agree, freedom itself is never free.

The question, then, given that educating the next generation (for our sake as well as theirs) is imperative, is, “At what cost ‘free college,’ and to whom?”

The initial price tag for President Obama’s noble endeavor to bring free community college to the masses is said to be $60 billion. The current cost of student debt, amassed primarily through student loans to pay for college that is anything but free, is more than $1 trillion. I sense a great cost savings already!

But wait. That $60 billion is out of the taxpayers’ pockets, right? Yes, and who do you think ultimately pays for that trillion dollar plus student loan debt? In diminishing the buying power (debt tends to do that) of Generation Next, where debt service supplants buying a house, purchasing a car, or even eating a decent meal at a local restaurant, the economy suffers, dramatically. A drag upon the wallet of every citizen, young and old, student and retiree.

In short, without a lengthy treatise on economic theory, paying to service $60 billion in debt, particularly over time, is a heck of a lot less costly to taxpayers than servicing $1 trillion in student debt -- a burden shouldered by a nation that can ill afford to either neglect the education of its children or become mired in economic stagnation.

A 1% tax upon students, for the balance of their working lives, as some propose to pay for this initiative? Um, no. [If we were talking about a 1% tax upon the wealthiest 1% of our country, you might have something there.] Any argument about the costs of “free college” would be disingenuous without weighing the costs of failing to provide the opportunity of higher education to those who are the future doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, and journalists, keeping America’s promise and assuring its continued prosperity.

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Congress -- yes, even this Congress (the one that makes the “Do Nothing” Congress of the 1940s look like the most productive legislative body ever) -- could find a way to pay for this worthy enterprise while keeping America safe, continuing to fund the pork projects back home, and providing themselves with the comforts of free health and medical benefits for life.

A liberal, left-wing, Socialist agenda? So say the regressives, who stand still in their tracks, pointing to the light at the end of the tunnel, failing to realize that what they see is the light of an oncoming train. Progressive? You bet! That’s what America does.

Billions for almost everything else, but not one thin dime for college education, is the road to ruin in a free society. Did I say “free?” Yes, America, the land of the free. But only if, here at home, we are brave enough to seize upon the bold initiatives that will keep this great nation on the cutting edge, always moving forward!


The more commentary I read on the issue of free community college, on the blogosphere and elsewhere, the more I realize the truth of that old adage, "There is no cure for stupidity!"

 All of these, "Why should I pay to educate someone else?" "I don't have kids in the public schools. Why pick my pocket?" The time dishonored, "I don't use the public parks or drive on the public highways or go to the public library. Why the heck should I pay for them?”

 Why? Because that is what we do in a civilized society. We support one another. We take care of each other. We have one another's backs, and, as a result, we all benefit.

 If you want to forsake the very essence of what brings this crazy patchwork quilt together, arming yourself with a 12-guage shotgun and taking to the wilderness, nary a neighbor in sight, this "be damned," "build a bunker" mentality may well serve you. It is, for the rest of us, to "give a damn," to come to the aid of our neighbors, to lend a hand up, because when any one of us is left behind, it is a drag on every one of us.

 Free? Nothing is free. Even the Internet connection used to "pen" these words is not free. There is a cost to a free college education, to be sure. The cost of doing nothing, however, of maintaining the status quo, is both unsustainable and unacceptable.

 A free community college education? You bet! Our responsibility, as citizens of a free society, demands nothing less.
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