College is already free, Bernie

At the end of the movie Animal House we learn the perennial student-slob character played John Belushi went on to success as a U.S. Senator.  I only just realized this was based on a real-life person: none other than Vermont's own Bernie Sanders.

Anyway, Bern has become famous for promising free college for everyone, even those going through life "fat, drunk, and stupid," and with the massive student loan debt to prove it.

But I wonder why any young person these days really needs to shell out for college.  There are so many ways to pay little or nothing, even if you don't have an athletic scholarship.

Consider the so-called "work colleges," a group of academically elite schools in several states that offer work-study that covers virtually everything.  And there are many less-known programs as well.  For example, in my hometown there is an innovative program called Metropolitan College, where thousands of students work the night shift at the giant UPS air hub, and in addition to full pay and benefits, receive tuition reimbursement. 

Then there is the enormous offering available to anyone in the military – during service, there are the academies, or the CCAF, or a host of technical training programs, then later the GI Bill for veterans.  I am just scratching the surface here. 

If the military is not for you, there is still the basic college tax credit for students and parents: the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which is $2,500 per year.  What will $2,500 get you these days?  Actually, quite a lot.  For example, there is a brilliant new, free, online college University of the People.  They offer practical degrees in business and computer science, and they charge only for tests actually taken.  The school was recently fully accredited.

A similar and better known service is Western Governors University, which is a multi-state consortium college led by the state of Utah.  WGU concentrates on degrees in practical areas –  teaching, nursing, business, and computing.  They have a unique payment plan where you can take as many courses as you like per semester for a flat rate of about $2,900.  They are very generous about accepting credits from other colleges, and students from any state are welcome.  WGU was the brain-child of Utah's Mike Leavitt and has been embraced by other Republicans such as Rick Perry and Mitch Daniels.

You may also try looking into local online initiatives.  My hometown has a rather liberal Democrat for mayor, but he has also come through with an outstanding free computer training service, open to anyone with a library card.  Students are also eligible for free college credits through this program.

It's ironic that never before has traditional college been so expensive, yet never before has there been such an abundance of affordable educational alternatives, thanks to the internet.  Bit by bit, the brick-and-mortar colleges will be superseded by online services, just as the brick-and-mortar booksstores have largely been supplanted by Amazon.

But if there is no longer a campus, what happens to all the campus lefties?  Woodworking, anyone?

Frank Friday is an attorney in Louisville, Ky.