Reich: ‘Free Education’ Should Extend to ‘Grade 16’

ReichprofileFormer Clinton labor secretary Robert Reich took to social media today to remind us that while D.C. is hyperventilating over non-scandals and drummed-up controversies, student loan rates are about to double.  He also reviewed where “free” public education in the U.S. began, grew to, and has shrunk from, since, and believes (as I do) that “free” education should cover publicly-funded institutions, all the way to “grade 16,” and include vocational and trade schools.  From his Facebook page:

Interest rates on student loans will double on July 1 to 6.8 percent unless Congress acts, but don’t hold your breath. The Republicans want to peg loan rates to the rate of a 10-year Treasury note plus an arbitrary 2.5 percent, and use the extra revenue for deficit reduction. The President wants to set the rate at the 10-year Treasury note plus .93 percent, and limit what students have to pay to 10 percent of their income after graduating. His plan is “budget neutral.

Not even the President’s proposal goes far enough. Student debt has exploded to an estimated $1.1 trillion — more than credit card or automobile debt. In 2005, the average student loan debt was just over $17,000; by 2012, it was above $27,250, an increase of more than 50 percent in seven years. More than a third of young people under 30 are now seriously delinquent on their payments, owing a total of $113 billion — more than the total sums state governments spent on higher education last year. And unlike other debts, these debts can’t be cancelled in bankruptcy. We’re creating a new generation of semi-permanent debtors.

Over the last two hundred years, America built a system of free public education, on the principle that an educated population was critical to our democracy and our economy. In the early 19th century that system extended to grade 6. In the early first half of the 20th century it was extended to grade 12. After World War II, the GI Bill offered free college education to all returning soldiers. In the 1950s and 1960s, most state universities still charged nearly zero tuition. But then, gradually, the nation stopped viewing public higher education as a public good and began seeing it more as a private investment. In the 21st century, when an educated population matters more than ever to our democracy and our economy, our system of free public education should extend through grade 16 — and should include vocational and technical education as well. The federal government should subsidize states that share the costs, and universities that get aid shouldn’t allow their costs to rise faster than inflation. Here’s an issue around which students should mobilize.

Reich is suggesting something you hear NO ONE calling for: free public education through  college.  Why is this not a popular refrain from within the Democratic party?  And what logic could political opposition mount to oppose it?  If you have answers I don’t, feel free to share ’em.  I’m all ears.  Because as long as there are publicly-financed state-run institutions of higher learning, shouldn’t those institutions be available to the offspring of taxpaying citizens?

I suppose we start by asking: “who has the most to lose?”  That’s where you find your opposition.  So, who has the most to lose, then?  Would it make life harder on military recruiters, with the G.I. bill no longer a draw?  Does a larger population of post-secondary educated Americans mean a smaller “at-or-near minimum wage” labor force?  And who benefits from having that crop of American worker right now, anyhow?

Just a few questions that pop to my mind on this topic; what are yours?

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