The current scheme for financial aid for college goes something like this: if you or your family make less than x amount, the government will give you x amount of money to pay for college. Even the most leftist of economists will tell you that handing money to people creates disincentives to work, but the idea is that the people going to college will eventually do something good for the state economically – nurses, lawyers, etc. At the risk of sounding libertarian, I will say that what this has done has crowded the field enormously and many people with college degrees will still be ditch-diggers. Not only that, but because grants rarely cover all college expenses, they will be ditch-diggers with a mound of debt. What the system has done, then, is worsen the problem for some of the poor of America.
The solution is not the free market one – to lower the amount of college demanded by removing grants (effectively raising the price); it is the loans that do most of the damage anyway. Despite its faults, this system does allow the less affluent to close out the class gap, the reason being grants. The free market would see a much larger percentage of school being paid with loans than there are now. A better way than free market? Compulsory service (“draft”).A prerequisite for public colleges and universities ought to be 2-4 years of service to the United Nations, Peace Corps, other national or international public service, or if the applicant chooses, the military. I mention this last option for three reasons: one, it would be much easier for politicians to pitch the program to Americans if the military is included, two, in a legitimate and responsible democracy, the military is a perfectly acceptable form of public service, and three, the current system that the military has is very similar to this new program. This system will pay for four years of college in full to any public college or university.
The positive effects of this new program would be enormous. Not only will there be less college demanded (it would weed out those that don’t care enough about education to devote a few years of their life to public service), meaning more jobs available for recent graduates, but it would strengthen international opinion of America if more of its citizens devoted some time to international relations and aid efforts. It would also do much to negate a lot of the nationalism and aversion to the U.N. that American citizens have (if a reader is unsure that that is a bad thing, I encourage him or her to read the very first post of this blog detailing the principles on which this blog is based). The military will often meet its target rates of recruitment, delighting neoconservatives and hawks.
Of course, without this being mandatory for anyone wishing to attend a public school, the poor would be disproportionately affected. That is why anyone wishing to attend a state college or university must “join up” – all but the most disabled can contribute in a meaningful way.
Of course, this raises the question, “How will we pay for this?” I am working on exact figures, but I’m sure this program would not be light. This is the part where it does not look so rosy, as it never does when looking for money. A higher estate tax is an option. Legalizing and taxing things such as marijuana, prostitution, and online gambling can bring a large amount of revenue. An option that I personally dislike but could prove beneficial is removing welfare benefits for college aid adults – I am unsure if this would significantly raise crime rates, however, and this again hurts the poor and minorities disproportionately. All is not bleak, however. The services rendered to the U.N. could pay off our debt to the organization, and, in time, a deal could be struck with the United Nations to pay us for those that serve. The richest nation on Earth can certainly find a way for this to work.
A post at a later date will follow with estimated figures.