August 19, 2014

A push for a free college education

A pair of UW-Madison professors have a plan they say could give all students at public colleges and universities two years of free schooling.

Educational policy studies professor Sara Goldrick-Rab says much of the financial aid money spent by the federal government goes to students at private schools. She claims taking that money back could create new opportunities for students at public institutions, giving them a tuition-free education for two years, along with a stipend to live on. Goldrick-Rab says that would allow students to “focus on their studies for the first two years, and then decide what they want to do after that.”

The federal government allowed private school students to start receiving federal financial aid about 50 years ago, during a time when public universities and colleges were not as established as they are today. Goldrick-Rab says the quality of education and options on public campuses have changed a great deal since then, and those federal resources would now be better spent in a sector where government does and should have a say in how they are used.

As can be expected, the idea is not sitting well with those connected to private schools. Lawrence University Dean of Admissions Ken Anselment says the proposal could actually hurt students by limiting their options when selecting a college or university. He also notes that more than 20 percent of their students currently receive Pell Grants, and many of those would not be able to attend Lawrence if that aid were taken away.

Anselment admits that the proposal would also likely lead to a decline in funding for private institutions.

Goldrick-Rab and a colleague recently presented the proposal in Washington D.C., where she says it received a positive response from several governors.

Rick Schuh, WHBY