Young Americans face tough times: Record-breaking youth unemployment—including for those with college degrees—and high levels of debt from student loans have left millions unable to live independently. They are living in Mom and Dad’s basement, putting off marriage and family, and are down-scaling their aspirations when they should be dreaming big.
Katrina Vanden Heuvel, writer for the liberal The Nation, wants to provide relief for this struggling cohort. In a recent piece for The Washington Post, she proposes that we need to dramatically change the way we approach higher education financing.
She’s right about that. Unfortunately, she calls for the wrong fixes, such as Rep. Hansen Clarke’s (D-MI) bill to forgive up to $45,000 in student loan debt, and for expanding other government-subsidies so that college becomes “free” for students, at an estimated cost to taxpayers of $30 billion.
Fortunately, there is a way to provide free access to college instruction without exacerbating federal and state budget deficits. And the good news is, it is already happening.
Last week, Harvard University and MIT announced a new non-profit partnership called, EdX—an online learning platform where students around the world can take their classes for free over the computer.
This is only the latest in a series of moves by elite universities to create free or low-cost online learning platforms. MIT already operates an “open university” that allows millions of web viewers to watch their classes. Last year, 350,000 students around the world participated in free online course offered by Stanford University, which announced the launch of five more free courses this spring. Princeton, Penn, and the University of Michigan are also launching similar online learning initiatives.
This should be welcome news to students, taxpayers, and pretty much everyone concerned about giving people more opportunities to learn—except, perhaps, the many people who currently earn their living off of our nation’s bloated and inefficient system of colleges and universities.
After all, when schools like Harvard and MIT start offering free engineering classes to students around the world, including the opportunity to earn certification, why should a student spend thousands of dollars to take a similar course elsewhere?