Is Free College Really Free?
“Free” is a word with a powerful appeal. And in the past year or so it has been tossed around a lot, followed by another word: “college.”
Once upon a time, public university in this country actually was free, for the most part. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, from New York to California, states opted to charge no tuition or nominal fees.
Here’s the catch. Until World War II, college was also pretty sparsely attended. In 1940, only about 5 percent of the population, most of them white men, had a bachelor’s degree. And the U.S. was the most educated nation in the world! The small numbers made tuition relatively cheap to subsidize.
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