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April 2nd, 2008 by Joseph Carpenter

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”).

Peace Corps
Peace Corps
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.

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3 Responses to “Public Service for College Tuition”

  1. […] Loudah – MySpace Blog wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptThe free market would see a much larger percentage of school being paid with loans than there are now. A better way than free market? … 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, o…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…. […]

  2. I noticed that the time in which civic service would be provided was not specified in this blog entry.

    While some flexibility could be helpful in accommodating young people who might not be immediately ready to apply themselves in school and non-traditional students with a wide variety of circumstances I am a bit concerned that short-term economic interests and the nature of certain industries (e.g. the military – which already offers college tuition incentives) would require the civic labor sacrifice prior to college education.

    First, the longer people put off their college education the less likely they are to pursue it due to new obligations and priorities (e.g. I remember reading somewhere that only about 20% of military personnel ever use their educational grants). Second, education will augment abilities most when it occurs while the brain is most adaptive and learning and neural plasticity decline with age. The second topic may be a more delicate topic to broach while avoiding ageist prejudice but it is an important one to consider.

    While the overall brain growth stops around the age of 18 a critical period in which prefrontal connections rapidly increase, rearrange and stabilize continue through the age 22 and largely stabilize by the age of 25. Essentially, by encouraging people to engage in cognitively challenging tasks during that critical period maximizes intellectual potential in core competencies required for Bachelors degrees (as well as graduate and professional degrees) and builds up neural reserves to help stave off dementia later in life (cognitively challenging tasks up to the age of 30 remain important in that respect).

    In cases were a concern that non-core skills would be neglected or insufficiently cultivated a modest training program with real-world practice could be integrated into a college curriculum or offered as an extracurricular program. The result would be an incoming class of civic workers who would have a basic set of occupational skills (e.g. community organizing, professional translation, housing construction, etc.) as well as (in most cases) relatively marketable overall competencies that would help the person fill many roles and pursue a career or further education after the civic service experience ended.

    An additional concern with such a program is that it would delay the job searches of many participants with poorer social networks though some networking opportunities might be integrated into the program. In comparison to the students in the program, students with good family and friend connections and a financial cushion (at the extreme a trust fund allowing complete freedom) could spend a fraction of the civic service period in one or more intern position that might lead to a career or significantly enhance a resume. Perhaps an option might be given to all students to postpone their civic service indefinitely to allow them to continue attain advanced degrees first and possibly even pay off their debts through a sufficiently lucrative career. While that might reduce the incentive for some to engage in civic service it would afford relatively disadvantaged students similar advantages to privileged students (making access to large sums of capital less exclusive) and the money collected in lieu of personal service could be used to help support or expand the civic service program.

  3. I am wondering if it would be a requirement to do public service in order to attend college at all, without the option of just simply paying.

    You mentioned that it would be a prerequisite for public colleges and universities, but you said nothing about private institutions. Could you please elaborate.

    Personally, I would argue that we simply make this type of public service mandatory for all who are able, and not tied to any benefit.

    Of course, benefits like the minimum income, universal healthcare, free college tuition, and so forth should all be enacted simultaneously. It is a perfect social contract that way. Society will take care of all your basic needs so long as you follow the laws, and give back for a few years as the law demands.

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