What Free College Really Looks Like

My college has suspended all promotions. The hiring has been frozen for years anyway. All in-college grants are suspended, too.

In short, it’s a budget crisis worse than the one we had when the state literally couldn’t pass a budget in 2 years.

Why, though? We have a record number of students. Great enrollments. The state is giving us exactly what it always does.

Well, here’s the deal. Students whose families make under $65,000 no longer pay anything for college. As a result, the college is fading out of existence. This policy is very new, yet the costs of it are already unbearable.

To summarize: ‘free healthcare’ means no healthcare and ‘free college’ means no college.

And before anybody brings up how things were different in 1972, yeah, we’ve noticed. It’s like coming out into the rain and refusing to grab an umbrella because yesterday the weather was sunny. Things are not the same because they are very different. We are holding on to an outdated memory and destroying the good things we have now to maintain the illusion that it’s possible to go back.

26 thoughts on “What Free College Really Looks Like

    1. “state subsidized / supported universities are not possible to have?”

      It requires a state that wants to subsidize and support education in general and sees this as a general good. No state (or country) is like that right now.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Exactly. The form of statehood we had until the 1980s has been decomposing for a few decades. Today, it’s completely dead. A new form of statehood has taken its place. My goal both on the blog and as a teacher / scholar is to tell people what this new form of statehood is like and what to expect from it.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. I am from a country with state-supported/subsidized universities. You need to understand that first, this does not make universities easily accessible to everyone, as admission is competitive and students need to take and pass entrance exams. Free universities have to necessarily cap the number of students admitted each year. This is especially true for those who want to study medicine or law. The exams are very rigorous and corruption is widespread. On the other hand, there may be some fields (i.e., engineering) that may admit almost anyone, but they end up having a very high drop-out rates since not everyone is able to pass math and physics exams that await them in their first semester. There are some easily obtainable degrees (social work or mass-medial communication) that are essentially good for nothing.

      Second, university professors are poorly paid and their teaching loads are much higher than in the US. The system is also very closed to outsiders, jobs are jealously guarded, and in certain areas, you will find whole families (mother, father, daughter, son) teaching and working in the same college, since parents help their children to get a job the only way they know how. I was a good student and had ambitions to do research and to eventually work in academia. The first question anyone asked me was who are my parents. My parents were nobodies, so that was that. I would not be able to have the same career in my home country that I have in the US.

      Trust me, just like the universal healthcare, you do not want such system here. Yes, you will end up with free universities. There may even be a few that will retain their competitive edge. Those will not be accessible to everyone. The rest of the students will be funneled into wasting their time getting substandard education from overworked, underpaid, and grumpy professors. It will spell the end of everything that is still good and attractive about the US university system.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. We already lost our lecturers. There’s nobody to substitute them with, so those courses – which are usually low-level and extremely well-enrolled are cut.

        We used to complain when the administration cared about enrollments. Now it doesn’t care anymore because there’s no money tied to the enrollments. And the situation is worse than ever.

        I have a colleague at another department, running around, begging the administration to save a course with an enrollment of 80 students. But nope. Nobody cares. 80 or 800, they aren’t bringing in any money, so who cares?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Several years a go our state government proposed to essentially quadruple teaching loads for all profs at state-supported universities. The proposal did not go anywhere. I think it will be back, perhaps sooner rather than later and it may be successful the next time. That is one way to compensate for the loss of lecturers, I guess.


      2. You nailed it!! I tried to go back to academia in my country, and it was a stark contrast to what I got used to in the US. They don’t welcome new blood, they closely guard faculty openings and manouvre to give it to the internal candidate. As a result I am not in academia any longer.

        Liked by 1 person

    3. Because there is no subsidizing state anymore. The function of the state in this stage of neoliberalism is to funnel state funds to private corporations. The state that did anything for the citizens is dead. Now all it does is dismantle the institutions of welfare to enrich its only true subject: private monopolies.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. So on your view it is far too late to even dream of getting it to do/be something else?

        Because this observation has been being made by perceptive people for a few decades now, I remember a lecture by Jean Franco from the mid 90s that made this point. Yet many seem to think it is possible to take control of at least some aspects of the state back from the corporations. What do you think it would take to accomplish anything like this, do things have to get much much much worse, then fall apart entirely, and only then reformulate, or … ?


        1. ” this observation has been being made by perceptive people for a few decades now”

          I think I first heard the term ‘irrelevant to production’ (used about people) back in the 1980s and it turned into ‘irrelevant to consumption’ by sometime in the 1990s…

          “many seem to think it is possible to take control of at least some aspects of the state back from the corporations”

          I don’t think that’s the right formulation exactly…

          Liked by 1 person

            1. ” How would you formulate?

              I have no real idea… just some fuzzy perceptions. What does seem clear is that almost every left/right issue in the US is now irrelevant (in traditional left/right terms).

              “Systemic racism” is not a left/right issue, it’s a tech-oligarch issue/the rest of us issue (the twitter guy didn’t give Kendi 10 million dollars for nothing).

              “Womens rights” are no longer a left/right issue, it’s a pharma / the rest of us issue.

              The primary issues at this moment are about information, the tech oligarchs have about 100 times too much power – both parties are responsible for that.

              “Left” and “right” (or liberal and conservative) are no longer useful labels for much of anything AFAICT and the sooner people leave them behind the better.

              We’re in a new reality and our old tools for navigation are just going to ram us into an iceberg.


              1. I still notice the right wing is the group against the things I want, including, in no particular order:

                — reproductive rights/freedom
                — equal pay for equal work, and ERA ratification
                — civil rights, anti-discrimination/anti-segregation, anti-voter suppression
                — universal high quality free education and no, NOT charter schools
                — universal high quality healthcare
                — housing, rent control, etc.: stop having policies that create all of these homeless, and start finding a way to make housing accessible
                — dismantle / limit the power of the military industrial complex
                — independent media: all of these takeovers, so that the papers are owned by these huge conglomerates, are not good
                — public utilities, not privatized ones that are ruled from far away
                — serious action on the environment and climate change!
                — US drop all these imperialist adventures, we had no business being in Afghanistan in the first place, for example

                And so on.


              2. This is a conversation from twenty years ago. We are allowing our nostalgia to be used against us to rob us. They wave these beautifully sounding ideas to lure us in, knowing full well none of this has any meaning in the changed reality of today.

                The left / right dichotomy is also outdated. There are people who are in favor of the bio-security austerity state and people who are against it. What used to be “the left” is 100% in favor. Except for maybe a lonely Glen Greenwald. On what used to be the right, there is maybe a handful of people who are against. So at least there is a possibility of something.


              3. I still see richer vs. poorer. Those who will be in a position to survive global warming (at least for a while) and those who will not.


              4. Re “surviving global warming”:

                Most of the changes associated with global warming are going to be gradual enough. “Deaths by global warming” will be limited to those killed by natural disasters, at least in the developed countries. One can make an argument that those killed by the natural disasters will indeed be predominantly poor, for example due to being unable to evacuate fast enough. But still, even if, let’s say, the whole population of New Orleans gets wiped out, it will have relatively minor effect in the framework of a country as large as the US.
                Some place like Bangladesh is probably a different story…
                But on average I do not see a reason to fear that global warming will somehow destroy all or even 10% of the human civilization. People will adapt.
                (Just in case someone gets a wrong idea – none of the above should be interpreted as a suggestion to not care. But excessive panic will not serve anybody well, including those concerned with global warming.)

                Liked by 1 person

              5. The number of people who die from natural disasters has decreased by over 75% since the beginning of the 20th century. And that’s even though the world population has grown enormously.

                “Global warming” has come to mean “we will dispossess you and you should be grateful for it.” I’m not talking about the actual phenomenon but about its political uses. Any politician who mentions it should not be voted for. The bastard is openly announcing how he’ll rob you to enrich his corporate sponsors.


  1. Ah, yes, and so by extension, “free speech” …

    Were you ever surprised that it was going to be like this, that these movements are always cover for the abnegation of the things they’re meant to support?

    But perhaps I can help with something a bit more up-close and to the point …

    Here’s an experiment you may want to try with the help of some people with math and CS backgrounds: prepare a decision tree that shows you the costs of taking on specialties within the degree programmes your department offers.

    In other words, what is the minimal path required to a degree that decreases costs for the students in terms of completion time as well as decreasing the costs for the administration? (It’s in calculating the minimal path that you’ll need those math and CS people, or perhaps N can guide you a bit.)

    What you will likely find is that not only do certain specialties increase the number of hours required to graduate, and that this could be a substantial increase, but also that your administration is fully aware of these potential “problem courses” and has sought to eliminate as many as possible as unwanted funding targets.

    Having the decision tree will show you what’s at risk at a course level in the same way that preparing for that Dean’s telegraphing of intent showed you what was at risk at a personnel level.

    And so if the bulk of the enrolled students are on some kind of state aid because of low family incomes, why wouldn’t everyone involved with that want to exit the degree programmes early with some kind of credential that would put things on the plus side economically speaking?

    The goal in reimagining some of these courses would then be to provide them as alternatives within the core programmes that do not result in costly diversions, and with that you could perhaps make the case to retain more personnel.

    Ultimately the goal of “free college” at first is to provide an “optimised” minimal path education product before optimising that further into an even lower cost education in social standards, one in which those are deemed more important than what they’ll derisively term “fundamentals”.

    That this is what America does by default with its public schools doesn’t help your situation.

    Also, if you get good at this sort of “educational system management consultancy”, you could live anywhere you like and people will seek you out for help in fixing their curricula at cross-purposes. 🙂


  2. “the right wing is the group against the things I want, including, in no particular order”

    This sounds a lot like nostalgia, a longing for issues where the line between right and wrong was clear. That world is dead. Those who wanted to dismantle the nation state helped kill it. Hardly any of the issues you raise even make sense in the emerging/new reality…

    “— reproductive rights/freedom
    — equal pay for equal work, and ERA ratification”

    Woman” is no longer a category with any meaningful legal definition.

    “— civil rights, anti-discrimination/anti-segregation, anti-voter suppression”

    the Civil Rights movement effectively ended in 1969 (in that it achieved almost everything that could be achieved by legislation at the time). Now many Black leaders openly push for segregation and unsolicited mail-in ballots have degraded the entire ‘election’ process to PRI levels in Mexico.

    “— universal high quality free education and no, NOT charter schools”

    But it’s the left that have degraded schools into dreary propaganda factories and diploma mills. A lot of the curriculum needs to be de-radicalized (rather than ‘de-colonized’). I hate to say it but I completely understand normal, reasonable people who no longer want their children in public schools.

    “— universal high quality healthcare”

    Dead and buried. The government at present provides an endless series of insufficiently tested shots.

    “— housing, rent control, etc.: stop having policies that create all of these homeless, and start finding a way to make housing accessible”

    Good luck doing that when Blackrock owns all the housing.

    “— dismantle / limit the power of the military industrial complex”

    I don’t think it’s that anymore. I don’t know what it is, but that model is dead and what we have now is military occupation as money laundering (for lack of a better term). The real money goes way beyond weaponry. Lots of people got rich through the Afghan money laundering operation.

    “— independent media: all of these takeovers, so that the papers are owned by these huge conglomerates, are not good”

    Facebook and twitter are far more dangerous than dead tree publishing being consolidated.

    “— public utilities, not privatized ones that are ruled from far away”

    I don’t know enough about this to sensibly comment…

    “— serious action on the environment and climate change!”

    The only feasible response to ‘climate change’ is in developing new technology, not a traditional strong point of the left.

    “— US drop all these imperialist adventures, we had no business being in Afghanistan in the first place, for example”

    Absolutely agree, but see above (about MIC)

    It’s less left/right and more neoliberal/everybody else.


  3. “I still see richer vs. poorer.”

    Focus on that then rather than right and left. Many on the current left seem to hate the poor far more than the right ever did.
    The focus should be on things like autonomy and community (both under attack by neoliberalism).


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