Free tuition - as some struggling students pointed out to the Associated Press this week - doesn't mean free college.
The comments were made for a story regarding a proposal for the state of New York to pay whatever tuition is not covered by scholarships to New York public universities for Empire State students that hail from families making $125,000 or less.
Brooklyn College senior Florencia Salinas was among the students quoted. She noted that almost every dollar of her tuition was covered with grants and scholarships. However due to books, housing and other living costs Salinas said she will be $50,000 in debt when she graduates.
Another student, Nigel Peters, laments that even if the state covers his tuition for his senior year he will still have to work minimum-wage jobs over breaks and will need loans to help with living expenses, student fees, and books.
The students AP interviewed said while they'd appreciate having tuition covered it would be even better if living expenses were covered as well.
The inference is that it is unfair that they aren't getting a completely free ride on the back of taxpayers that includes those struggling in minimum-wage jobs so they can earn a college degree debt-free that opens the door to higher paying jobs.
Let's be honest. Most students who go to college don't pursue altruistic careers as physicians eschewing big paychecks to staff free clinics for the rest of their lives, to develop apps not for financial gain, or to emulate Mother Teresa's life. They go to maximize their wealth.
And even if they want to find out everything they can about Chaucer, explore the humanities, and partake in spirited discussions to become a well-rounded person, why should 100 percent of the burden - meaning living costs and such - be borne in part by those who hit the bricks right out of high school?
It is their choice to go to college. It is their choice to do so right out of high school instead of working a number of years and either putting money aside or going to college part-time.
The argument that the nation benefits from a better educated workforce is hollow unless the government dictates what degrees can be pursued and sets a quota on them. Right now you can make an argument that there are too many people graduating with the wrong degrees and skill sets when it comes to what best benefits the nation and the economy.
That said, no one should embrace a system that stifles individuality and preordains education paths. But at the same time if that flexibility is allowed you shouldn't argue that it is in the national interests for college students to have every last financial need covered when they're hitting the books.
Their fellow classmates from high school that didn't opt to go to college have to either work to pay their own living expenses or have their parents pick up the tab.
Banks aren't going to loan them $50,000 to cover their living costs for four years so they can find themselves or self-educate themselves.
The reason college students can secure such loans for living costs while they are going to college is the reasonable expectation they will be able to secure good-paying jobs eventually to pay back the loans.
It costs to have shelter, food, clothing, personal hygiene products and such. That's Reality 101.
A 21-year-old farmworker needs those things just like a 21-year-old college student.
Why should the 21-year-old college student have his living costs picked up by taxpayers on the abstract promise that they will eventually be in a career that somehow benefits the nation? Meanwhile the farmworker is essential to help feed the nation yet the public isn't paying for their basic living costs.
The New York program is being pursued as an answer to the growing problem of student debt that now exceeds $1.2 trillion nationally.
What some students are advocating means all of that debt that includes college living costs would now be on the back of taxpayers if plans like New York's had been in place nationwide and included living costs as well.
Under such a scenario students would leave college debt free with a diploma that the education community keeps equating to a license to make money based on lifetime earnings power that they like to banter about.
But if taxpayers are being burdened with all the costs they should get something in return.
Perhaps those who go to college to become teachers and opt for taxpayers to pick up the entire bill including living expenses should in exchange be required to teach for five years wherever the governments determines there is a need while being provided a boarding house room and a $15,000 annual salary. For more expensive and demanding degrees such as needed to become a medical doctor the government could assign them jobs for seven years in exchange for room and $20,000 a year.
After the end of their "payback" for their education, the graduates that got 100 percent of their education on the back of taxpayers would be free to enter the workforce college debt free and with experience to boot.
Of course they could avoid such a regimen and do it the old-fashioned way and work their way through college and/or take on debt to pay for the cost of living and education expenses while attending college for four years.
This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt and does not necessarily represent the opinion of Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.