BE FREE TO ALL? 'They should have everything we can afford, and we can afford plenty'.

Author:Piven, Frances Fox
Position:OPINION
 
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Should education be free to all? Yes, it should. Not only that, but there should be subsidies to cover the cost of living for low-income young people going to school. Free tuition by itself isn't enough. Young people trying to study while struggling to earn enough money to maintain themselves and maybe help their families are always behind the eight ball. I've been teaching in various higher education institutions for basically all of my adult life, so I know a lot about the circumstances of these young people. I think that our society has become very, very unequal. The inequality is increasing rapidly and endangering our democracy.

You know, educational institutions are not self-sustaining. They live off tuition, big donations and tax dollars. I'm sitting across the street from Columbia University right now, and Columbia occupies a huge swath of upper Manhattan and pays no taxes, even though it gets all the city services. Families invest a lot in the future of those young people, and then at Columbia they pay a lot but nevertheless are also subsidized by the state and the city of New York. It's not that we should deny these free public services to Columbia; we should expand our thinking and do more to support other young people who don't already have all these benefits.

Is there a broader problem of access to higher education? Yes, it's a big problem. Young people usually go to college when they're 18, but they start school when they're four, five or six. And all those years they have the benefit, or the lack of benefit, of being prepared for success in the world of work. We should pour resources into the preparation and education of all our children. We're not doing that. We should do more for public education, for pre-K education, for children deprived of full-time parenting. They should have everything we can afford, and we can afford plenty.

Does education cost too much? Yes, it does. Universities are mirrors, and the internal workings of universities are beginning to mirror the distortions of the larger society. Enormous sums go to administrators and to for-profit consultants. There's no good reason for that. I recently read that the take-home compensation of Lee Bollinger, the president of Columbia University, is now $2.5 million a year. And every overpaid president has by his side and behind him a dozen or two dozen provosts, vice provosts, associate provosts, deans and so on. The administrative staffs of universities has become...

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